MASTIC BEACH, Long Island (WABC) -- One Long Island school district is facing a major shortage of bus drivers as the new school year approaches.
Officials from the William Floyd School District in Suffolk County say a dispute between a new bus company and bus drivers has left them short dozens of drivers, leaving transportation for 9,000 students at risk.
The buses are ready to go, but it's the drivers who are needed -- 70 of them, to be exact.
The debacle started two weeks ago when school officials in Mastic Beach were left with no choice but to pull the plug on the five-year bus contract with East End bus lines.
They say two years into the contract, the owner demanded more cash -- $16 million for the remaining time. School leaders said no, and after cutting ties with East End, they awarded the transportation contract to Acme Bus Corporation two weeks ago during an emergency meeting. Now, Acme is scrambling to find drivers.
"We are approximately 70 driver short with Acme and working at feverishly pace," Superintendent Kevin Coster said. "We apologize we are in this position. Parents are expecting us to transport the students in the district, which is our board policy, and our backs are against the wall."
The president of the union representing East End bus lines tells Eyewitness News that drivers would go over to Acme, but the are cuts to both salary and benefits due to seniority changes that members don't agree with, as some of the drivers have been working for 30 years.
Debra Hagen, president of Local 252 Transport Workers Union, released the following statement:
"United and Staying Strong. Years of experience and dedication driving or being monitors for the children and families of (William) Floyd School District, and new contracted bus company Acme/Baumann wants to treat us like new hires and take away paid holidays, 401k, reduce wages and benefits that took us 20 plus years to achieve. We deserve to be recognized for the years of experience. Many of us with well over 20 years. We are the community, we live here, we are (William) Floyd tax payers, we care about the children of this district. We just want to be treated fairly and not go backwards, over 15 percent cut in pay to our monitors who care for our special needs children, reduced wages to our experienced drivers who know every little narrow street, dead end, flooded road in our community."
The bus company released the following statement:
"East End Bus Lines, Inc. was awarded a five-year transportation contract with the William Floyd School District in 2016; as the lowest responsible bidder. In addition, the contract was approved by taxpayers at the annual budget vote in May of 2016. East End Bus Lines total award for the five-year contract was 76 million dollars as published in the William Floyd School District proposed budget. William Floyd did not pay East End Bus Lines, Inc. The total dollars that they were contracted and/or budgeted for the first two years of the contract. East End requested to be paid from the William Floyd what they were contractually approved for by the taxpayers and the District. William Floyd expects East End Bus Lines to provide transportation services for less money. By awarding the contract to Acme Bus the District is now asking drivers and monitors that have provided safe, reliable transportation in the William Floyd School District to work for another contractor, for less money, with a different Union. Acme Bus was awarded the transportation contract for approximately $2 million dollars more than East End Bus was getting paid. East End Bus Lines, Inc. supports the drivers and monitors of Local 252 and has been willing to transport the students of William Floyd School District but only if we receive payment for what we were contractually awarded."
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Suffolk County school district 70 bus drivers short ahead of the school year