BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — For four days after he received the letter, he woke up at 1:00 in the morning, paced the floors and cried.
The letter the man had received said he owed Chilton County Schools $10,182 that the district claims he’d been overpaid during his time working as a bus driver at Verbena High School. It wasn’t the only letter the school system would send — CBS 42 has confirmed at least two other employees have received similar letters. The employees’ combined debt amounts to over $66,000.
Now, nearly three months after receiving the letter, the bus driver, whose name CBS 42 has chosen to withhold, is defiant. The payroll errors were the district’s fault, he said, and “little people” like him should not have to pay for that mistake.
The man began working at Chilton County Schools over two decades ago as a way to provide for his two boys, then four and five years old. His father had just passed, so he and his wife moved to the “little county farm” where he had grown up. He didn’t want the boys in daycare all day while he and his wife worked, so he farmed the land and got a bus route for the school system, which allowed him to see his children every day.
“I love driving the bus,” he said.
But the letter and the debt it represents have cast a shadow over the job he’s loved for more than 20 years.
“The little people are the ones that’s taking the hurt,” he said. “Most of us, it takes everything we got to make it. People are just struggling to get by and pay the bills and then get hit with something like this.”
Unlike other letters reviewed by CBS 42, the bus driver’s letter did not require a response within a specified time period.
A lawyer assigned to the bus driver by the Alabama Education Association advised him to pay the money back, the man said, saying that the school system may “go to the district attorney” if he does not comply with repayment.
He said he’s standing his ground. He hasn’t responded to the letter in any way and is still working his job as a bus driver for the system.
He also had a message for the lawyer.
“I’m a simple guy,” the bus driver told his lawyer. “It pisses me off when somebody comes up with drama in my life because I like being simple.”
He said the lawyer suggested he make a down payment toward the debt.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he told her. “You’re not gonna help me. I’m the little people.”
Chilton County Schools had refused to comment on the issue until Tuesday, just after the initial publication of this article.
In a joint statement published on the system’s website Tuesday, Superintendent Jason Griffin and the Chilton County Board of Education said that school officials are required to “recoup” any overpayments from employees.
“We cannot comment on specific personnel matters,” the joint statement from school system officials began. “The Chilton County Board of Education recently discovered several overpayments. These overpayments date back several years, and were initiated prior to the tenure of the current Finance Department, Superintendent, and Board. Under Board policy and the law, board officials are required to recoup any overpayments. We are mindful of the financial impact that this matter can have on our employees, and we are working to balance that impact with our obligation to recover the funds.”
Nonetheless, the bus driver said he plans to continue doing what he’s done year after year — his job. And if the school system goes to the district attorney as his lawyer suggested they might? The bus driver said he’ll “cross that bridge when we get there.”
“It’s their mistake,” he said. “Why do the little people have to pay for it?”