The Rockville Centre Board of Education unanimously voted to terminate the school district’s contract with the Baumann Bus Company at a special meeting on Tuesday night, as bus drivers and matrons remained on strike for a second straight week.
The Oceanside-based company and Transport Workers Union Local 252 were in heated talks over the past two weeks, including on Tuesday, with no resolution. The board said that Baumann had breached its contract with the district, and voted to end it, effective Wednesday.
“Baumann has shown to us that they are either unwilling or unable to provide [bus] service up to this point,” Schools Superintendent Dr. William Johnson said, “and consequently, the board has decided, and I think wisely so, that we have to move forward.”
The district was getting ready to begin the bidding process to find a new bus company, and the board can move to accept a proposal on Nov. 28.
A likely candidate to replace Baumann in transporting the roughly 1,300 Rockville Centre students — and 450 additional parochial school students — is Guardian Bus Company, also based in Oceanside, which has been working with the district over the past week.
The district began using Guardian buses on Nov. 8, but on Nov. 10, Baumann buses transported most students, as Veterans Day closures in other districts meant that more strike-breakers could run Rockville Centre routes. Johnson called the transportation that day a disaster. “We had buses that didn’t show up, that were late, they didn’t make all the stops,” he said. “…We should have stuck with Guardian.”
At an emergency meeting on Monday, Johnson announced that the middle and high school students would have another eight Guardian buses in service, which meant that the district could transport all of its students on Tuesday. He added that the district would continue to use Guardian on a day-to-day basis throughout the bidding process, and would have full coverage.
“Guardian is the only company that has come forward and shown any real interest in helping us,” Johnson said.
Thousands of students in the Rockville Centre, Baldwin, Freeport and Hicksville school districts were forced to find ways to get to school on their own starting on Nov. 6.Word of the strike was posted on the districts’ websites the night before. The strike has also impacted Chaminade, De La Salle, Kellenberg, Sacred Heart and St. Agnes schools, as well as Freeport Christian Academy.
Bus drivers and matrons have called for “guaranteed weeks” — to ensure consistent five-day paychecks — to be included in their contracts.
“We do not want to be out on strike,” Debra Hagan, president of TW Local 252, wrote in a statement. “We want to be transporting your children to school in the morning and bringing them back safely in the afternoon. That’s our job, and we take that responsibility very seriously, but we are unable to adequately care for our own children and families because Baumann & Sons Buses — which makes huge profits — insists on treating us like peasants.
“We care about your children and are sorry for the inconvenience you are experiencing,” Hagan continued. “We hope, however, that you agree that we too deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and that sometimes you just have to stand up to a bully — like Baumann — and demand fair treatment.”
Johnson told the Herald after Monday’s meeting that he considered it a “slap in the face to the district” that Baumann and the strikers wouldn’t meet over the weekend to negotiate.
“If [they] really want to settle this thing, why aren’t [they] working on Saturday or Sunday to do it?” he said. “The problem for me is that this is an adult problem that should have been solved by adults. Putting kids in the middle of this thing was wrong from day one.”
Though Johnson told the Herald that the strike has not greatly affected student attendance, he said that it was having the most impact on children in lower-income families. “Not everybody in this community has a car,” he said. “Those are the kids that have to find their way here, and it’s not easy for them.”
Since the strike began, Johnson said, “[Assistant Superintendent Robert Bartels] and I spend at least an hour to two hours a day coordinating [buses] for the following day.” Updates have been posted on the district’s website since the strike began.
“We’ve had to try to piece together a patchwork transportation system,” Johnson said. In addition to Guardian’s service, he added, “There have been some people who’ve crossed the [picket] line at Baumann.” For the most part, he said, Guardian’s service was reliable. “The kids go to the bus stop and they get on the bus. They’d never know anything was different.”
Under the district’s contract with Baumann, the district could only contract with Guardian on an emergency basis, and only for routes that Baumann couldn’t cover. Guardian is paid for the routes they drive, and that cost has been deducted from the district’s payments to Baumann, according to Bartels. “Our students need to get back and forth from school safely, and in prompt time,” said Board of Education President John O’Shea. “That’s our main concern, is our students getting to school with no disruption in their education.”