KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Some Kalamazoo Public Schools support staff members, including bus drivers, are fed up with their wages to the point that they are considering quitting.

“Every day, we come here to work,” one bus driver told KPS board members Wednesday night. “All we are asking is a little bit of something.”

Another bus driver, Jeremy Freeman, called on administration to up drivers’ pay, especially since many are living paycheck to paycheck or worse.

“We need more money. We have bus drivers that are homeless, living in their cars because they can’t afford anything anymore. That is ridiculous,” Freeman said. “Without the support staff … there’s no district. Because they need us.”

Freeman, a married father of three kids, has been a bus driver for about 15 years. For six of those years, he said, he has had to work a second job. His usual salary comes in at around $40,000 after tax, but there are major caveats.

“I have to be at work for 13 hours a day … in order to do so. Most of these people coming in starting at $14 an hour, getting four or five hours a day… They’re making less than $20,000 a year, $15,000 maybe,” Freeman said.

Union group Kalamazoo Support Professionals President Joanna Miller said the wage discrepancies are not exclusive to bus drivers.

“Parapro(fessional)s who’ve been there 20 years make the same wage as I do at seven years,” Miller said.

Miller claims the district has not negotiated in good faith, citing a conversation the district’s head of human resources had with them.

“‘If you want to make more money, become a teacher,'” Miller said the head of HR told them. “I don’t want to be a teacher. I love being a school bus driver. And what are you going to do with 295 extra teachers?”

According to the Michigan Education Association, Kalamazoo Public Schools currently has a job vacancy of about 10% to 15% district wide. The MEA added many support staff members are thinking about leaving the district this summer, which could double that percentage by the start of the 2022-2023 school year.

Kalamazoo Support Professionals is calling on the school district to come to the table with a livable wage for its support staff, a 5% stake in ESSER funds — federal COVID-19 relief money — and an inexpensive health insurance policy without a costly $7,000 deductible.

“Something that is workable for everyone,” Miller emphasized. “If we have the increased wages, more people would be able to afford it and take care of themselves properly.”

The Kalamazoo Education Association, the union mainly representing teachers, is also calling on the district to fairly compensate support staff.

“The KEA staff are being offered an increased rate to teach summer school, as we were last summer. Why is KPS not offering the support staff the same?” KEA President Amanda Miller wondered. “Many surrounding districts have used the money for staffing and retention bonuses. I am concerned that we will lose more staff if we don’t act quickly on both issues.”

Kalamazoo Support Professionals leaders say members are meeting next week to discuss exact numbers for their livable wage demands.

When reached for comment Friday, a Kalamazoo Public Schools spokesperson said the district was “in the middle of an active negotiation, and we do not comment when we are in the middle of these legal proceedings.”

The Kalamazoo Support Professionals president said negotiations with the district resumed Friday afternoon.