Friday, April 18, 2014

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Bus Strike Looms Large During Hearing On School Transportation

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A City Council hearing Friday that was supposed to be about school bus costs became more about the school bus strike, and whether the chancellor should be doing more to end it. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

Pointing fingers, deflecting blame, even yelling at each other. The City Council hearing on why the city's yellow bus system is so expensive went on for more than five. But in the end, there was still no consensus on how to bring the cost under control, not to mention the key underlying question: how to end the ongoing bus drivers' strike.

"It's very easy to say, 'Well, it's not our problem, it's the union's problem,' but, Mr. Chancellor, quite frankly, it is your problem because our children are not getting to school," said Brooklyn Councilman David Greenfield. "Therefore, the elephant in the room, the obvious question is, what specific steps are you taking?"

"The answer is the same that I've given before. I didn't want to waste your time," said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, in response to Greenfield. "The union is the one that called the strike, plain and simple. 1181 is out on strike. It's not the city of New York.

The union wants the city to come to the table, but Walcott insisted that they have nothing to negotiate. When Greenfield asked Walcott if there was a middle road, the chancellor responded, "There is no middle road."

The Chancellor said he's being fiscally responsible, getting new, competitive bids on old, expensive contracts. Some councilmembers said they think it's just an attempt to take away seniority protections from low-wage unionized workers.

While the Department of Education, unions, parents and advocates all answered councilmembers' questions, the private school bus companies declined to participate in the hearing.

A spokeswoman for the companies said it was because the bus owners were busy getting buses rolling with limited drivers. But their absence meant many questions on costs and profits went unanswered.

"Bus companies, if you have something to say, stand up and say it," said Manhattan Councilman Robert Jackson. "Don't be an ostrich with your head in the sand. Hello? Come on. I understand you are caught in the middle, but stand up and say it!"

When parents testified at the end, it was to say that the ones who are really caught in the middle are their children.

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