31° Good Morning
31° Good Morning
Long IslandEducation

Schools, parents scramble as bus drivers in 4 districts go on strike

The union representing bus drivers in four Nassau County school districts went on strike Monday, Nov. 6, 2017. The strike affects students in the Freeport, Baldwin, Hicksville and Rockville Centre school districts. An estimated 20,000 students attend the four districts. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Thousands of students and their parents struggled through a bus drivers’ strike in four Nassau County school districts on Monday, with congestion outside some schools in the scramble of morning drop-offs and afternoon pickups.

A negotiating session between the union and Ronkonkoma-based Baumann & Sons Buses Inc. was scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday with a federal mediator, and school officials and parents alike expressed hope for a quick end to the job action.

Public schools get a reprieve from the situation on Tuesday because it is Election Day and classes will not be held. But most of the affected private schools with students who are bused from those districts will be open.

The strike affects an estimated 20,000 students in the Baldwin, Freeport, Hicksville and Rockville Centre school districts, and the NYC Office of Pupil Transportation, with students in Queens and Brooklyn.

Among the private schools seeing an impact are Chaminade High School in Mineola, Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale and Freeport Christian Academy.

The strike “is disappointing on many levels,” company president Ronald Baumann said in a statement, noting that meetings with the mediator also are scheduled for Friday and Nov. 28.

Workers were on strike as of 5 a.m. Monday, said Debra Hagan, president of Transport Workers Union Local 252, which represents 300 drivers, monitors and mechanics.

“We have tried to come to terms,” Hagan said. “The company’s answer is it’s their way, and that’s it.”

Outside Caroline G. Atkinson School in Freeport at the 2:25 p.m. dismissal, the street in front and the bus circle were choked with cars.

Grandparents, cousins and working parents streamed in from a parking lot across from the school and parking spots blocks away to pick up children who usually take buses home.

“This is crazy to have to get out of work early,” said Ali Galvin of Freeport, manager in a custom house broker in Valley Stream who arrived to pick up her 11-year-old twin girls.

But she was philosophical. “Things happen. My husband’s company was on strike. . . . It’s inconvenient, but we have to work with it.”

Diane and Monty Stratton of Freeport were picking up a grandchild and found the situation confusing.

“It’s a pain in the neck,” Monty Stratton said. “There’s no organization, just come pick your kid up.”

Some children waited out front, some seeming a little anxious. “It’s chaotic,” complained one mom, Jan Hurst of Freeport, who came to pick up her sixth-grader. “You can’t even find the kids.”

Freeport Superintendent Kishore Kuncham said the strike contributed to an increase in absentism, with some schools reaching 15 percent, compared with the norm of less than 5 percent.

Some 5,000 of the district’s 7,300 students use buses to get to school, he said.

“I really hope the adults come together and resolve it immediately by tomorrow night,” Kuncham said. “Let’s get back to normalcy by Wednesday.”

Students who would normally take the bus home from Hicksville Middle School waited for their rides home on Monday afternoon, clustered on the north side of the school. Teachers and other school personnel directed the stream of parents to park and pick up their children.

Antonia Perez, of Hicksville, took a half day from her job as a cashier to pick up her son at 2:20 p.m.

“It’s a total inconvenience,” she said.

Liam Flanagan, of Hicksville, waited in his car to pick up his two brothers, who usually take the bus home.

“I woke up this morning and was blindsided by it. I hope it ends soon ’cause I’m never doing this again,” Flanagan said, laughing. “They’re walking next time.”

In Rockville Centre, Superintendent William Johnson said the district was looking into hiring another bus company to transport about 400 students to three Catholic high schools and a Catholic elementary school on Tuesday.

A sticking point in the negotiations between Baumann and the union has been over payment to drivers on days off in the school calendar that occur during the five-day week, including snow days, Hagan said.

All four of the public school districts posted notices on their websites informing parents and guardians of the situation, and some made robocalls.

On Monday morning in Rockville Centre, more cars than usual were parked outside Francis F. Wilson Elementary School because of the strike, and parents walked hand-in-hand with their children.

Cynthia Cruz, of Rockville Centre, kissed her son, Noah, before seeing him off to class. Noah, 7, typically takes the bus, but because of the strike, Cruz drove him to school.

Thinking ahead to the afternoon, the mother said she planned to pick up her younger son from preschool a little earlier so that she could reach Noah on time. “It’s not too much of an inconvenience. I just hope they fix it soon,” Cruz said.

Chris Chruma, also of Rockville Centre, dropped off his three children and their two friends at South Side High School at about 7:15 a.m. The teens typically take the bus to school.

“It wasn’t a total inconvenience, but we still had to get up a little earlier and out of the house before we usually would,” Chruma said.

With Lisa Irizarry and Bart Jones

Latest Long Island News