Spring Break Is Here: Can I get my unemployement insurance check?



By Paul Peterson 04/20/2012

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Did you know that school bus drivers and cafeteria workers file unemployment claims whenever schools take a vacation break?

Unemployment insurance is supposed to help those unfortunate workers who lose their jobs as the result of an economic contraction or their own company’s need to regroup.  But those who work for the public schools, institutions that only seldom need to retrench and that hardly ever close their doors, have nonetheless found a way to convenient way to collect unemployment benefits.

As those who have followed the school battles in Wisconsin and Indiana know well, school employees enjoy generously funded health-care benefits and handsome defined benefit pension plans that are driving many state and local governments to the edge of bankruptcy.  Now, add still another give-away to the public employees of the nation’s schools—unemployment benefits for those weeks when kids are given their spring break.

I learned all this simply because the number of people seeking unemployment benefits went up last week, which may signal that the U. S. economy is at risk of falling back into another recession.

But, says the Wall Street Journal’sMarketwatch” (April 19), we can’t be sure these numbers tell us much about the direction of the economy. “The weekly claims data is often hard to decipher in April because of the Easter holiday and spring break,” it reports, “when many school workers such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers are eligible to receive temporary benefits.”

I leave it to you, dear readers, to tell me just how bus drivers and cafeteria workers pull off this scam.  I had always thought the wages and salaries paid to public employees take into account school vacation times as well as the days they are on the job.  I thought the unemployed had to prove they had been fired from their job to get those marvelous (to coin a phrase) unemployment benefits.  How did bus drivers get access to those unemployment funds during holiday week?  Does this also happen in late December?  How about summer time? Who else gets them?

I’ve also heard the rumor that teachers are delighted when they get the spring pink slip in those years when the state legislature has yet to vote state aid for the schools the following fall.   Everyone knows that the legislature will eventually pony up the dollars, but school districts hand out pink slips to teachers anyhow, telling them they are fired, at least for now, because no one knows when the state dollars will flow.

Although sob stories about frightened teachers appear in the local paper, the truth, I’ve been told, is that the slip gives them the right to collect unemployment benefits even if they use the money to take a European tour prior to returning to school in the fall.

That’s the rumor I once heard.  Tell me it’s not so.  Tell me the wages and salaries and benefits that school employees officially receive are all that they get.

- Paul E. Peterson




Comment on this article
  • D.A says:

    Do you have 1 source to back up your claim?

  • Zoey Charles says:

    It definitely happens. We have bus drivers who apply for Christmas break and President’s Day. They get it. Not very man know that they are eligible, but the ones that do apply.

  • Anne Clark says:

    Ummm…just a thought – but did you even consider that cafeteria workers and bus drivers have been outsourced, and are NOT public employees?????

  • Jason C. Prater says:

    Paul, your post seems somewhat condescending. Until you are the one driving the bus or serving the food in the cafeteria, I would say this is a subject you should not be commenting on. Most school employees – I am not speaking of the teaching staff here – are no salaried, but rather hourly. When the breaks come, the money stops.

    Unless there is more to the story, I could not disagree with you more on this. Probably more scandalous issues in education to discuss.

    However, you made me think… which is a good thing.

    Jason P.
    http://teachingmomentblog.com/

  • Carl Treseder says:

    Speaking as a retired school district CFO (California) I would note that the devil (as always) lies in the details. School district employees (other than subs and temps) are under contract for a school year. For non teaching “classified” personnel, those contracts will vary in number of days of service, some are “10 month” (basically the school year only), while others are 11 month or 12 month (with vacation days earned). In all above cases an employee who works a full contract receives credit for a full year of service toward retirement. During the period of employment (whether 10, 11 or 12) the contracted employee normally receives a pro-rated fraction of the contract, irrespective of actual number of days worked, and so, during breaks inside the school year, continues to be employed, even if not at work. Summer breaks are another matter, for those whose contracts end in June and do not begin again until August or September. Some individuals do file for and receive unemployment during those periods, even though they have not been laid off or given reason not to expect to return to work at the beginning of the next school year. All gets back to the contracts between school districts and the bargaining units.

  • Phil says:

    Some primary sources would be nice… even one would be nice. The idea that people apply for unemployment for Presidents day and get it seems quite absurd to me. How many days to they take off to sit in the unemployment office?

    I’d like to know how many teachers love getting that pink slip in the Spring so they can collect unemployment. It seems to me that some districts do this to prevent teachers from accumulating experience toward tenure and to keep teachers from feeling like they have any job security or investment in their particular school.

    How does it help students for teachers to be insecure and not know where they will be teaching in the fall? Many of us meet with other teachers and prep our classes all summer (on our own time.)

    Also, in our district cafeteria workers, bus drivers and janitorial staff all work for private contractors who have contracts with our district. The idea that these are public workers on the dole is insulting and just plain wrong.

  • Thanks, Mr. Tresedor, for your helpful comment.

    All your details are instructive but the most interesting to me is that this arrangement is subject to the collective bargaining agreement.

    How many school districts protect the public interest when negotiating that detail with the other side?

    If only the data had to be made available to the public, in a highly accessible manner, we might bring this inappropriate practice to an end.

  • Carl Treseder says:

    Mr Peterson: Thanks for your response to my comments. I would add that, in my experience, the determintion as to entitlement of unemployment benefits is left to the State Employment Department field offices on a case-by-case basis, based on State law. From a collective bargaining point of view, at the district level, there is no recognition of a break in service between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next in the case of a bus driver or cafeteria worker who has permanent status and works a 10 month contract. I think that in this case, the problem lies in State labor law, not the collective bargaining agreements. That said, the real elephant in the room is State laws providing for collective bargaining for public employees. Schools in CA were not subject to collective bargaining prior to 1976, when the Legislature acted to grant that prerogative (our current Governor was also then Governor). I first was employed by a CA school district summers in the 1960′s while a college student; life on the job for both administrators and custodians was better back in the day IMO.

  • Desiree says:

    My husband works for First Student bus service for 5 yrs now and we have never been allowed unemployment. Even though we will have no other source of income during the time he is out of work, luckly he has applied for summer school every year, and even at that there is about a month and a half we have to go with out income and all of our bills get to be a month behind, he loves his job working with the specail needs students but that time period with no income just about kills us every year, Bus drivers and paras are specail poeple and put up with alot, They deserve to have some unemployment benifits for the time they have no income between school years it’s not their fault school isn’t year round. But this no income problem is a reason bus companys loss trained employes every year.

  • Christina Coughlin says:

    Sir,

    If they are hourly employees, they probably do not get paid for breaks….No work = no money.

    Are you surprised that relatively low wage employees need additional income when their primary employer essentially furloughs them? Do we expect their trustfund dividends to cover the gap?

    Even when employed by public school districts, not contractors (which is often the case), bus drivers are part-time hourly employees…They’re hardly giant greed-heads. It seems rather ungracious for you, a person who probably has full-time employment and benefits, to pick on these lower income people…

  • Michelle Mesa says:

    Not all bus drivers are employed through the school district many work for private contracters. I know because I am one of those people…I don’t get health benefits, paid time off, paid vacation or retirement or anything. My income is hourly not salary…so No we don’t have our income for the year evenly distributed during time off. We get paid for only hours worked…so NO SCHOOL means NO MONEY through the company. So unemployment for those time periods is really needed and helpful…its money that we’ve worked for and rightfully belongs to us…thank you very much!!!

  • Steve says:

    If you are a classified employee of a school district in California (bus driver or cafeteria worker) you do not get unemployment benefits during the summer break, spring break , or winter break, unless you have worked a 2nd job and have earned enough to qualify and are not working at either.

  • contractor says:

    Speaking As a Private school bus contractor, and a driver for many yrs. I understand the meaning of No School, No pay, But this yr, my drivers have applied for unemployment..
    I do understand, because I’m required to pay into unemployment for them so they want to draw off of it, but they and I know when we take this job it does have time off.
    I don’t get paid by the school it the buses don’t run and so they should not expect to receive pay.

  • Joy says:

    Bus drivers are only paid when the schools are in session. So when they are not then they do not get paid. I believe in working for what I get however before you look down on another person’s job and how they handle it you need to have all the facts. A school bus driver gets a set amount for a days work not an HOURLY one. They only get paid for 4 hours not 8 hours. They do not get paid holidays or paid vacations like a normal job does. They are still employed come summer vacation but they are not paid for any of it unless there is a charter that comes up. So what are they suppose to do. If they go find a part time job that isn’t guaranteed that they will be working because the company knows that they are not going to stay. So if they get unemployment then they at least have money coming in to help with finances till the school year starts up again. Go talk to a school bus driver before you ever put them down.

  • Julie says:

    As a long time year round contracted teacher in a private school I’ve been laid off. Wisconsin is now investigating my eligibility to collect unemployment during the school breaks and while this goes on I am denied unemployment compensation. As a contracted professional I wonder how much vacation time workers in other professions have during the year, 4 weeks, 6 weeks, more? My point is that teachers have much, much more to do while under contract besides standing before the children. How puny minded and miserly people have become that they cannot expect working people, teachers, to make a living wage and take a well deserved vacation. No one who has not worked year round as an educator has a clue about what the job entails. The war on teachers is ugly and insulting. Now cafeteria workers and bus drivers who also work hard and for little money must put up with small minded thinking.

  • [...] Bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and other public school seasonal workers in most states can collect … Although filtered through their employers and the state government, ultimately it is the taxpayers who pay for these benefits.  This extra compensation received during their summer break is not included the employees’ salaries as reported in the school budget and elsewhere. [...]

  • Val ShumWYl says:

    I drive a school bus, we do not get holiday pay or bonuses only a hourly wage that is earned, we do not get any sort of decent medical benefits, so before you judge you should get your facts straight, what are my kids supposed to eat, DIRT, because no one will hire us temporarily because they know we are going back to driving when school starts back.

  • Richrdh says:

    I work part time as an instroctor in a career college that offers no beneftis for part time employees. Yes, no benefits. I sure am going to try and get unemploymenrt benefits because I have rent to pay, myself to feed etc. It would be different if this school was not so cheap and treated instructors like human capital and not cattle.

  • carlue MI says:

    As a bus driver for a local school district, I think that, that the author of this report should first get his facts straight. I work and only get paid for 3 hours a day, sure the rate may seem decent but did you know that if a child acts up on the bus and phone calls have to be made it is all done off the clock free of charge to the public schools. I, on numerous occasions have had to stay after without pay for a couple of hours to resolve conflicts on the bus and watch video from the bus recordings. As far as insurance goes, I pay out of each check a pension and health supplement that I will see when I retire that is it, I do not have health insurance provided to me nor does any other bus driver that I work with in my district nor in the other school district that I know. There is a lot of responsibilities for a bus driver that the bus driver does not get paid for. Shame on you for posting this report and claiming that a bus driver is scamming the public and please no your facts. What generous health insurance are you talking about ???? Again three hours a day and the day is split making it hard to get another job that would not interfere with the hours we work. The only one scamming the public here is the the author of this article.

  • Larson says:

    As a cafeteria worker myself, I can tell you that I am not generously compensated, nor am I on a great salary. I make less than ten dollars an hour, and a full time cafeteria employee is limited to 30 hours a week. Benefits?? Ha!! In order for me to be able to receive medical insurance for myself (not to mention my kids), it would cost me $154 a week. Considering that my checks usually run around $460 biweekly (when the schools have no breaks, holidays, or snow days), that would leave me making $130 a week. Think about all those three-day weekends, teacher work days, holidays, and snow days. No hours, which means no money. And in my state, we may not file for temporary unemployment, and it’s crazy to think that we file for a day. Let’s talk about summer, shall we? Usually in the summers I wait tables, if I can compete with all the college and high school kids also looking for summer jobs. If not, that’s almost three months without pay. So while you sit behind your computer passing judgement, take a second to talk to an actual school employee and get your facts straight.

  • Sarah says:

    Hey Not all of us get our unemploymen check as you say.
    I am a School bus driver with no health insurance and I barely make $15,000.00 a year. I just filed a Claim to Oregon UI and they are putting me through redickulas loops trying to get a payment. I filed my waiting week the week before Spring break so I could file for the spreing break week since I worked 0 hours and earned $0.00 They denied me payment! I have worked all school year this year, so I know that I have made the required earned income to recive UI, but still they are not helping me!

  • Robin says:

    I work for school cafeteria and i do not get to file for unemployment in the summer or anytime!

  • Armando says:

    I have been driving about seven years no accidents” for first student I put up with the screaming the cursing and the ignorant behavior. I have the responsibility of up to 53 children per route on this 16 ton vehicle with people like you blowing my lights and cutting me off and speeding buy like you don’t care if someone gets hurt.

    I put up with threatening and rude parents i drive in snow floods what ever the case may be and i issue referrals to try to maintain discipline on my own time mind you

    and I’m the first and last person your child sees before and after school, and i don’t show up u might miss work.I endure the demeaning drug tests and the high costs of renewing this cdl as does any other driver.

    Further more the last time i checked it doesn’t come with health care and there’s also the section on each check that says ui taken out federal taxes are taken out state taxes are taken out so that makes me a taxpayer and i don’t get 12 months worth of money and it is not a scam when you apply for money that you need to have so that you can still be there next year to do a job that the people complaining about us claiming have never done with their 40 and 50 k a year jobs now you pass a law that actually pays enough to support staff like school bus drivers and cafeteria workers none of us would claim

  • Donald Duck says:

    I don’t have time to read all of these comments but I am an adjunct faculty and the semester is soon ending and I don’t have any classes to teach for the summer (low seniority) so why the hell can’t I apply for unemployment in michigan? What am I supposed to do to pay my bills?

  • steve says:

    Not in Indiana. Drivers cannot even get unemployment when they don’t work over summer break. Teachers can’t unless they lose their job.

    Drivers should be able to collect over summer…too bad Wisconsin, Georgia, and Indiana can’t pull their heads out and help take care of workers…not treat them like cattle at employers mercy.

  • carrie says:

    You don’t sound like a nice person. I make $8 an hr and have no other work during school breaks..nothing. So, If I can file and get $54 a wk it helps so much. Hard to find work after 65 yrs old. For you to begrudge the elderly a few dollars…sounds real mean to me.

  • annmarie says:

    I am a cook in a school. We do not make much money an hour. We are allowed to collect unemployment when we are off for a week for xmas break & spring break & for the summer. The little bit of money we get a week on unemployment does help otherwise we would have NO money coming in for the summer. Im sure if your job closed for the summer u would want unemployment. Its not our fault school closes for summer & we are out of work! Believe me, the little bit of money we receive is NOT hurting unemployment. Afterall…we DID pay into unemployment so we can collect these benefits. Its not like we are getting free money. Maybe one day you will be unemployed….then lets see if you want to collect unemployment. Maybe someone will tell you that YOU dont deserve to get paid & see how u feel.

  • Tymica says:

    I work in an elementary school as a special education aide. During the school year I work for less than $10 per hour. I also only work while the kids are actually in school, so that puts me at about 37 hours a week in a normal week, not including Christmas break, In-service days, MLK day or any other day that the schools are off. I have healthcare for me, but to add my family to my healthcare plan would run about $500 a month. You do the math on that one, and tell me if I can afford it. So for my very meager wage, I deal with (and these things have really happened to me) being bitten, kicked, hair pulled, screamed at, scratched, helping children from 3rd-5th grade who have defecated themselves “clean up”, irate parents, numerous illnesses and lice, all of which were then brought home to my family and I had to take care of on my own dime. I do it because these kids need someone to. I do it because the good days are REALLY good. I do it because I get to be home with my own children for Christmas and summer break. But I left a job in the private sector making 36k a year to do this, and for you to assume you know what goes on in the school system because someone at the Wall Street Journal wrote a partial sentence about it, is a complete disgrace. I will also add that even with working summer school, I will go 2 months without an income whatsoever this summer. I have not applied for unemployment, although I could probably get it. So before you get on your high horse, maybe you should come see what non-certified staff at any given public school endures for what their pay is and then tell us we don’t deserve what everyone else out there is eligible for.

  • Jacquie says:

    I am a school bus driver for over 20 years. I was rewarded a mini hand held flashlight for 20 years of accident free driving from our insurance company and nothing from our school district. We are not compensated for the entire year and we do not have any other benefits such as paid vacations or health insurance. Get the facts before you spew out your proclamations!

  • Bus Driver says:

    I drive a school bus. I get NO unemployment. No vacation pay. No health insurance. No sick pay. As a matter of fact, if I try to take a sick day, the company I work for tries to make me feel like my job may not even be there for me once I feel better. They try to back me into a corner saying “you need a drs note if you call in sick”… a dr’s note with no health insurance. hmmm… that means that I not only have to lose pay when I’m sick.. but then I also have to pay for a dr’s visit when I really just need a day or two with a cup of soup and some warm blankets and a box of tissues. I deal with the hormonal rage of teenagers. The road rage of irresponsible drivers. Severe weather. I have one thing to say to you. I PRAY that YOUR kid is on my bus this year. Have a nice day sir.

  • Really???? says:

    As a new bus driver who is already concerned about having employment in the summer, I read this article hoping for some valuable in sight in case there isn’t a summer school route for me to take on. Thank you for reminding me that even the most educated man can fall short of having common sense or decency.

  • Mother of 2 says:

    It takes a tremendous amount of patience to be a school bus driver. And you’re testing my patience. As a school bus driver for a couple different states and for a number of years, I’ve been paid hourly and by the route, for large school districts and for farm towns, both in northern and southern states. Heard I could claim unemployment for summer and holidays, but never did. Believe me, summer months are VERY tight for us bus drivers. We make only a little over minimum wage as it is when the tax year is done, because of the pause in paychecks over the summer months. I’d apply for summer jobs, but no one wants to hire us when they know you’ll be leaving them in 10-12 weeks. And you can forget about working a 2nd job during school, as our split-shift schedule (2-3 hours in morning, 2-3 in afternoon) prevents that. Best you could do is a pizza delivery job evenings and weekends, but then you’d be dead tired going to bed at 1-2 AM and waking up at 4AM to pick up kids for school each morning. Unsafe and unfit to drive that way.

  • Dennis says:

    But you people are NOT unemployed!! You have a job waiting for you when the break ends! And those of you who have done this job for years (like some of you claim) you know that the break is coming and should be prepared for it! Unlike a person who REALLY loses their job they are usually NOT prepared for it! Those people have to prove they lost their job through no fault of their own to get the paltry UI checks. And if they are lucky to find a job before their waiting week is over they do not draw anything. I noticed a comment on here where someone started their filing while still working before a break so they wouldnt have to wait a week to get a check, because after 1 or 2 weeks during the school year they are right back to work drawing a paycheck. I think it is unfair that during spring break and winter break they are able to draw unemployment. Now during summer break I am on the fence with that one, 3 months is a long time for no pay. But what is stopping you from getting a temp job during the summer, or do you just like the fact of a taxpayer funded 3 month vacation?

  • Pauline says:

    Oh my!! I am a paraprofessional for Jeffco Public Schools in Colorado. Not only do we NOT receive benefits, we are NOT salaried employees, which means we receive ZERO compensation during ALL breaks (Spring, Summer, Winter). We are NOT eligible for unemployment even though we are NOT working and NOT earning money!! It’s a travesty.
    We earn very little (approx $12/hr) and are capped at 30 hours per week.
    Over the last few years we took a 3% cut in pay to save jobs and schools during budget cutbacks, we have not received COLA or Step raises in 4 years, and our para hours were cut to a max of 20 hours per week. We still were ineligible for any income subsidy……. Yes, we LOVE what we do, as we are NOT doing this for the money (we just pay our rent and starve, lol).

  • Pauline says:

    I agree with “Mother of Two”. Employers do not want to hire someone for 2 1/2 months. The alternative is to lie and fail to tell them you will be leaving in August!!! Not ethical!! I’m sorry, but I believe that non-salaried school employees should receive assistance during Summer vacation (not Spring/Winter breaks). Those of us who may be single or with no partner providing income, and unable to find employment during this time run the very possible risk of losing their homes/apartments, falling behind on bills etc., I agree, we “should prepare” for this, but on the monthly check we receive, there is little to no room for squirrelling away anything!
    In the 8 years I have been a para, I have yet to hear a co-worker tell me they were able to find summer work!! (Not to mention we are all in our 40′s and traditional “summer jobs” are aimed at youth).

  • jon says:

    Drivers are willing to work but cant because the job is closed isn’t that what unemployment is for

  • Christine Collins says:

    I always thought it unfair that seasonal workers, such as construction and golf course maintenance crew, were allowed to file and receive benefits but bus drivers are not. I worked for one of the big 3 for 30 years and we collected unemployment whenever we were laid off, even knowing we would be going back to work when the cars started selling again.

  • Arlene says:

    Their are some people that work for schools and do not get paid while school is out.they are denied unemployment.I am one of those people.First they told me they had to verify I was not getting paid.Then when that was confirmed ,they denied me because I worked at a school.I have been on my job for three years and have always been able to draw.I want you to know my unemployment checks did not break the goverment,thats what its there for.People like you and every one else in office has been using our money for what ever reason they want. But when we need it its not there and we are denied our benefits.Which is rightfully ours and should be there when we need it.This is ridiculious to be turned down when Iam not even getting paid.

  • Jen says:

    Do you get in trouble with your school district if you apply for UI? I am a single mom with three kids and will go two months without a paycheck during the summer.

  • Mary says:

    I work for the DOE as a cafeteria worker and we cannot receive UI benefits which sucks because we get no check for 2 1/2 months. Even though we have a job to get back to in august those 2 1/2 months with no check puts you behind on bills!

  • Thomas c. Franks says:

    I really don’t understand how they can stop unemployment insurance. So, that means I can’t collect partial unemployment. Their got to be way

  • Melissa says:

    Please stop criticizing what you know nothing about. If you worked for McDonald’s with benefits, and they chose to pay you hourly, and then tell you they would not give you any hours in the summer, wouldn’t you collect unemployment? Why does it matter who you are employed by?
    I am an aid, paid hourly, I do not collect nor do I try to collect during the school year. But when summer comes and I have no income to keep food on the table or pay the bills, I am going to do EVERYTHING I can do collect unemployment. My kids are home, I cannot afford to get another job and pay for day care for the summer. I pay my taxes and I am entitled to the same benefits as any other employee of another company!

  • iven says:

    I work as a security officer at a Chicago public school. And have done so for 13 years. In past years money was taken from your pay, each check , called extended pay. This with held money was given to you during the times school was not in service (spring break, winter break, summer break). You you get a normal pay check during that time. Sonds great and it was.

    Now extended pay no longer exists so why shouldn’t I get unemployment benefits for the two weeks in spring and winter and the two and a half months in summer plus some miscellaneous days.

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