Council, parents blame Dept of Ed for school bus strike

Dennis Walcott
“I will protect our students in every way, shape and form,” Chancellor Walcott said. “It’s our unions that took the strike, I didn’t take the strike.”

The Finance and Education Committees of the City Council held a hearing Friday morning with Chancellor Dennis Walcott of the Department of Education on the cost of student transportation, in light of the on-going bus driver strike over the city’s request for bids on school bus contracts. The strike is now in its fourth week.

Councilman Robert Jackson, as chair of the Education Committee, largely led the hearing, during which he repeatedly accused the Bloomberg administration of attempted union-busting.

Jackson scolded Bloomberg and Walcott for misrepresenting statistics, pointing out that the given cost of transit per pupil — which Bloomberg and Walcott have reported as nearly $7,000 —  is actually averaged between the cost for special needs students, which is $15,000 “due to the need for escorts and other requirements,” and the cost for general education students, which is about $2,600, according to Jackson.

The bus contracts in question are for the bus routes for special needs students.

As for the mayor and chancellor’s complaints that the city pays more for busing than cities in other states do, Jackson scoffed, “I don’t know why anyone would be surprised by that.”

“Don’t we spend more for everything here?” Jackson asked, noting the higher cost of living in general.

Other speakers at the hearing included parents of special needs children, as well as a special needs bus matron of eight years, who broke down crying as she spoke of her charges.

“We love those kids,” she said “It’s not only about the money, it’s about those precious kids.”

Chancellor Walcott noted that the bids for bus contracts are due today, Monday February 11, and will be opened tomorrow.

Department of Education spokesperson Marge Feinberg told Metro the bids “will be reviewed and then awarded to the lowest responsible bidders.”

Why are they striking?

The bus drivers’ union is demanding that an Employee Protection Provision be included in the new request for bids, so that current drivers will maintain their positions and salaries regardless of new management. The union alleges that EPPs would assure that the drivers and matrons be trained to care for special needs children.

One mother of an autistic child talked about the bus matron on her child’s bus, “a wonderful woman named Maria.”

“The idea that she would make even less than she’s making now horrifies me,” she said.

Walcott said repeatedly that the city is maintaining a rigorous training program for all bus drivers, but Jackson argued that the request for bids only asks that the company have 20 months of prior management experience, and does not include requirements for bus driver experience.
Support from city falls short

The city has provided MetroCards for parents and promised reimbursement for those who need to take car services or taxis during the school bus strike, but the parents at the hearing said that nobody has been reimbursed yet, and that the city-provided list of car services is useless.

One mother reportedly had to call 20 different services off the list, and was denied service by all of them.

“Twenty different services said we shouldn’t be on that list or we’re not doing that anymore,” reported Maggie Moroff, Special Education Policy Coordinate at Advocates for Children. Moroff also noted that until recently, the city was not reimbursing parents for their trips back home after dropping their child off, or back to school to pick their child up, only covering the trips for which the child was actually present. Some students have reportedly been asked to attend different schools for locational convenience.

Moroff and Councilman Jackson both emphasized that special needs students who cannot make it to school are not only missing classes, but also critical services including behavioral, occupational, speech and physical therapy.

One of the mothers present read a statement from another mother who reported that her autistic child was so exhausted by the over-stimulation of a two and a half hour bus ride to and from school that he had already missed three days over the course of the 12 day strike.

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Mayor announces public housing improvements

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke at the Lincoln Houses in East Harlem on Wednesday, calling for the scaffolding to come down at NYCHA complexes across…

National

Peter Theo Curtis: American released by Syrian militants…

An American writer freed this week from two years in the captivity of insurgents in Syria spoke briefly outside his family's Cambridge home Wednesday of…

Local

Bratton defends 'broken windows' work as NYPD support…

Sixty percent of those polled said they support the "broken windows" theory approach popularized by Commissioner Bratton since his first term in the 1990s.

Local

Transit changes for Labor Day weekend

The MTA is adding additional service Friday for New Yorkers getting out of the city for the long weekend. On Friday, Aug. 29, 27 additional…

Going Out

Things to do this week in NYC, Aug.…

MUSIC The Electric Zoo Festival Aug. 29-31, 1 p.m. Randall’s Island Park $99-$369, www.electriczoofestival.com The electronic music celebration returns for a fifth year, with 150,000 attendees…

Going Out

5 things to do this weekend in NYC

The Electric Zoo Festival Aug. 29-31, 1 p.m. Randall’s Island Park $99-$369, www.electriczoofestival.com The electronic music celebration returns for a fifth year, with 150,000 attendees expected. David Guetta,…

Television

'Full House' might be relaunched with some of…

A new "Full House" might be in the works.

Movies

Review: 'The Congress' is a crazy, unwieldy sci-fi…

Robin Wright is the center of gravity in "The Congress," which turns from a live-action Hollywood satire into an animated spectacular on a downer future.

NFL

Mario Manningham on the bubble as Giants play…

Former Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham hopes his second go-around with Big Blue doesn’t end with Saturday’s final cut day.

NFL

Source: Stephen Hill 'faces a battle' to make…

A team source says Stephen Hill, who has battled injuries and poor performances during his first two years, is no lock to make the Jets’ final roster.

Sports

Serena Williams leaving legacy of talented American women…

It seems only a matter of when, not if, Serena Williams will win her 18th career grand slam championship.

College

When are 2014 college football playoffs? (Schedule, date,…

When and where are 2014 college football playoffs? A look at the schedule, date, TV, time for the semi-finals at championship game.

Food

Recipe: Samuel Adams beer-marinated grilled shrimp

Summer calls for two things: a cold beer and light food. Sam Adams' Latitude 48 IPA fairly bursts with citrus notes, making it an ideal marinade…

Wellbeing

Heart trumps brain when it comes to movies…

When you need a good cry, do you reach for the movie that’s “based on a true story”? Science says you’re giving your brain far…

Sex

The 10 types of people you meet online

Does it ever seem like online dating profiles tend to get a little repetitive? It turns out you are not the only one to have…

Home

Labor Day essentials

Whether you’re soaking up the sun on the beach or barbecuing in the park here are some must-haves for your end-of-summer bash.