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

Girl, 10, dies after being pulled from water…

A 10-year-old girl died after being pulled from the waters off Coney Island Beach in Brooklyn on Tuesday night, police said.

News

NY judge throws out lawsuit by Empire State…

A New York state judge has thrown out a lawsuit in which longtime investors in the Empire State Building claimed they were shortchanged out of hundreds of millions of dollars…

Local

Mysterious white flags appear over Brooklyn Bridge

Two white flags mysteriously appeared over the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday in place of the American flags that are a traditional fixture.

National

Judge sets January start for murder trial of…

By Elizabeth BarberBOSTON (Reuters) - Former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez will be tried in January for the murder of semi-professional football player Odin…

Arts

Don't miss 'Charles James: Beyond Fashion' at the…

Have you been meaning to see "Charles James: Beyond Fashion"? There are only two weeks left to get to the Met and catch this amazing American fashion designer's collection.

Television

Zac Posen talks 'Project Runway' and what it…

We talked to Zac Posen, judge and designer extraordinaire, about the new season of "Project Runway" and what keeps him coming back after three seasons.

Television

'Face Off' contestant David 'DOC' O'Connell sounds off…

David "DOC" O'Connell tells us about getting cast on Season 7 of Syfy's "Face Off," premiering tonight at 9.

Arts

PHOTO: Wildlife photographer Marc Mol captures amazing aerial…

This aerial image was taken by photographer Marc Mol who spotted the animals during an air safari in Zambia.

NFL

David Tyree hiring has gay rights advocates angry

Former Giants Super Bowl hero David Tyree will re-join the franchise as its new director of player development.

NFL

Ben McAdoo's new offense has Giants excited to…

Even Tom Coughlin feels he has a lot to learn about offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s new offense, which makes the veteran coach very excited.

MLB

MLB Power Rankings: A's, Angels, Dodgers, Brewers lead…

MLB Power Rankings: A's, Angels, Dodgers, Brewers lead pack

NFL

2014 NFL season betting odds: Which team will…

2014 NFL season betting odds: Which team will win Super Bowl?

Tech

Learn Braille with these gloves

U.S. scientists have designed high-tech gloves to help users understand Braille in a matter of minutes.

Home

5 New Ikea products that will change your…

We round-up the latest must-have products.

Food

Recipe: Wolfgang Puck's Buttermilk French Toast

We recently spent some time chatting with restauranteur/celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck at his Wolfgang Puck American Grille in the Borgata in Atlantic City. Puck wanted…

Style

Go retro with your sneakers

The best of wacky new sneakers.