DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- On Wednesday morning, thousands of Durham Public School parents were strongly encouraged to provide transportation for their children to get to school.
"When I came into the bus lot at Hillside, there were not any supervisors present, nor were there any bus drivers driving. So, I was informed that everyone is on strike, due to the accidental overpayment from the state," said bus driver Indira Hayes. "I apologize to the parents. I really apologize, and we're gonna do our best. Like I said, I can help out, but it's only one of me. And just parents just try to arrange as best as you can let your job know."
The employee call-out, according to DPS workers, is the result of an overpayment dispute with the district's recent compensation study.
In an email obtained by ABC11 and sent to an undisclosed number of employees, superintendent Dr. Pascal Mubenga wrote: "As you know, changes to the classified salary scheduled were approved in October 2023. A recent audit of salary payments made since October 2023 has revealed that errors were made when assigning employees to their correct step on the new 2023-2024 salary schedule, and as a result, some employees, including yourself, were paid at an incorrect, higher step. This error resulted in a salary overpayment to you for July to December 2023 that was processed in the October, November, and December payrolls."
Further in the email, the district referred to the overpayments as "unintentional" and apologized for the error.
However, employees told ABC11 that the compensating study and Mubenga's email were confusing and "did not make sense."
Those employees chose to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.
A district spokesperson told ABC11, "The approved recommendation from the compensation study included compensating employees at their state years of experience versus their private sector experience."
Several employees said this language and the overpayment are proof that experience is being "taken away" for private sector work experience. The reduction in pay to what the district has said is the proper amount is being met with employee discord.
An employee said the call-out is not just limited to bus drivers and that other support staffers, such as cafeteria workers, are also considering calling out later this week -- and some already have.
The staffers chose Wednesday to call out because Tuesday was a district-wide teacher workday when students did not have school.
In response to the call-outs, the district spokesperson said, "Durham Public Schools is communicating with employees to hear their concerns."
Late Wednesday evening, Durham Public Schools said it anticipates the same issue for Thursday.
In a message to parents, DPS said, "(We) regret to inform you that due to an ongoing bus driver shortage, we are facing challenges in providing transportation for our students tomorrow, Thursday, Jan. 18. In light of this situation, we kindly request your support in transporting your children to and from school for the day. We understand the inconvenience this may cause and sincerely apologize for any disruption to your routine. Your continued understanding and support are crucial during this challenging time. We are actively working to address this situation and appreciate your patience. Please be assured that we remain committed to your child's education. Thank you again for your cooperation in this matter."