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Local News January 17, 2013  RSS feed

STRIKE SHUTS SCHOOL BUS SYSTEM

Parents, City Scramble To Get Kids To Class


Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 picketed outside Atlantic Express school bus company’s Ridgewood headquarters on Wednesday, Jan. 16, after the union representing school bus drivers went on strike. 
(photo: Nicholas Biondo) Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 picketed outside Atlantic Express school bus company’s Ridgewood headquarters on Wednesday, Jan. 16, after the union representing school bus drivers went on strike. (photo: Nicholas Biondo) Thousands of children across the city were forced to find another way to and from school on Wednesday morning, Jan. 16, after hundreds of school bus drivers and matrons went on strike for the first time in three decades.

Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 walked off the job early on Wednesday morning in protest of the city Department of Education’s (DOE) plan to request new school bus operator contracts without including the “Employee Protection Provision,” which offers job protection guarantees for certain members with seniority.

Reportedly, city officials claimed that a ruling by the New York State Court of Appeals forbids the city from applying the provision to any future school bus contracts.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated at a Wednesday afternoon press conference that about 39 percent of the city’s 7,700 yellow school bus routes were running as of 7 a.m. that morning. He noted that figure includes “all of the pre-k routes serving 12,000 children.”

“That’s because they were covered by contracts that were renegotiated last year,” Bloomberg said of the routes which were in service. “The buses that are in operation are staffed by workers who are, I will say, not members of Local 1181.”

As of press time Wednesday, the job action remains in effect, and until further notice, parents affected by the loss of school bus service should seek alternate ways to transport their children to the city’s public schools. The system-wide strike impacts the morning and afternoon commute of more than 152,000 students, including those with disabilities who require special transportation services.

Before the strike took effect, Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott announced measures New York City would take during the walkout, including the deployment of additional transit officers, school safety officers and crossing guards.

The NYPD added more transit officers and more crossing guards to help manage the anticipated increase in the number of students using public transportation and walking to school. Additional school safety officers were also deployed to public schools.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission issued an alert to all licensees to anticipate increased demand and have the maximum number of cars available.

The following resources are available to families of students who currently receive yellow bus service:

• All students who currently receive yellow bus service may receive a MetroCard. MetroCards should be requested through the school’s gen- eral office. The DOE has informed the Metropolitan Transit Authority that it may need to accommodate additional riders.

• Parents of pre-school and school-age children with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and require transportation from their home directly to their school, as well as parents of general education children in grades kindergarten through two, may also request a MetroCard to escort their children to school.

• Parents of children who receive busing from their home or are in kindergarten through sixth grade and do not live in areas where public transportation between home and school is available, may request reimbursement for transportation costs. Parents who drive their children to school will be reimbursed at a rate of 55 cents per mile. Parents who use a taxi or car service to transport their child to school will be reimbursed for the trip upon completion of reimbursement forms that includes a receipt for provided services. Requests for reimbursements should be made weekly on forms that will be available on the DOE web site, www.schools.nyc.gov, and in schools’ general offices. Families who plan to drive or use a car service to carpool are encouraged to carpool with their neighbors whenever possible.

• In the event that students cannot get to school, the department will be posting materials online for every grade and core subject so that students can continue their learning at home during the strike.

Last month, according to the DOE, the city released competitive bids for school-age yellow bus contracts, most of which have not been bid out in 33 years. Since then, the cost of bus service has increased to $1.1 billion each year, an average of $6,900 per bused student, making it the most expensive in the country.

The request for new bids covers contracts for approximately 1,100 routes, which serve 22,500 students in kindergarten through 12th grade who have disabilities and require special transportation. The DOE previously released bids for pre-kindergarten bus contracts, which resulted in a savings of $95 million over five years.

The DOE will continue to update New Yorkers about the potential strike and will post new information on www.schools.nyc.gov. Information will also be available at 311.