By Taylor Beglane and Danielle Tomlinson
Nine thousand K-12 students in the William Floyd School District struggled to get to their first few days of school starting Sept. 5 without large buses because of an ongoing bus contract dispute.
Students will have no large bus transportation for the first two weeks of class, until First Student Inc., the largest bus provider in North America, steps in to replace the old company, East End Bus Corp. According to an FAQ set up specifically to address the transportation issue, the district cancelled its contract with East End in June, right after the company demanded an additional $16.5 million dollars for the remainder of their three-year agreement.
The majority of large bus drivers for First Student will be those who drove for East End, according to James Montalto, public relations director for the district. Both East End Bus Lines and Acme Bus Corp. sternly declined to comment.
This past July was the third time East End Bus Lines demanded more money than was in contract. “This company requested money two times previously, in January 2017 and again in February 2018” Montalto explained. When the district brought in attorneys both times, East End agreed to complete the contract.
Of the recent July 2018 demand, Montalto said, “The timing suggests that East End waited until this moment to put the district in the precarious position of not having transportation in place for the opening of school in September.”
The superintendent of the district, Kevin M. Coster, released a statement on Aug. 24 informing the community about the transportation crisis. The Board of Education temporarily contracted Acme Bus Corp., which had already provided the district with summer transportation since 2016.
But Acme did not meet the demand for the 70 large bus drivers it needed to service the nine schools in the district. William Floyd then switched to First Student, the nationwide provider.
Local 252, a bus driver’s union that operates in Nassau and Suffolk counties, fills driver positions in buses that First Student will provide. It initially did not provide large bus drivers for Acme, claiming that Acme refused to provide adequate benefits and wages for drivers who have been in the area for decades.
“They were going to go backwards in pay,” Debra Hagan said, president of Local 252. First Student, Hagan said, recognized the union’s rate of pay and benefits.
Without buses, some parents walked their kids to school and others relied on loved ones for help. April Warner, a 25 year-old mother, borrowed her boyfriend’s car to drive her five-year-old son Noah to his first day of kindergarten.
When she parked at Moriches Elementary, Warner’s disappointment continued. In preparation for a large number of drop off traffic, the school made arrangements for teachers to usher the kids inside. Besides missing the opportunity to put her son on his first bus ride, Warner wasn’t allowed to walk him to class.
“As a parent, you build this thought up in your head of the first day of kindergarten because it’s a big moment. That was kind of just taken away from me,” Warner said.
For Warner and other parents, Sept. 17 can’t come fast enough. “That’s a memory my son will never get to experience either,” Warner explained.