William Floyd School District may be short nearly one-third of its bus drivers when the new school year begins as not all of their former drivers are switching to the replacement firm hurriedly hired earlier this month, officials said Thursday.
Though the school district and the new bus company, Ronkonkoma-based Acme Baumann & Sons Buses, said they still hoped the firm could hire about 70 drivers, school officials said they had begun considering ways of lessening the impact — such as pre- and post-class programs — if the company's efforts proved unsuccessful.
"Unfortunately, part of this potentially is the negative impact this will have on our students," Superintendent Kevin Coster told reporters.
"We're hopeful many of our drivers who have driven for us for years," including some whose children and grandchildren attend William Floyd schools, will sign up by the first day of school on Sept. 5, Coster said.
A spokesman for the Mastic Beach-based school district said it was too early to organize car pools or take other steps.
Wendy Sidman, Acme's human resources business partner, said: "We’ve been in this type of situation before, and somehow we've always managed to pull through . . . We're going to do our darndest to provide the best service that we always provide."
The main recruiting problem, according to Coster, David Beggins, assistant superintendent for business, and Sidman, is differences between the benefits Acme negotiated with its drivers and those East End Bus Lines negotiated with a different union.
"I think the real difference is not the hourly pay so much as benefits," including vacation and sick days, and how seniority will be handled, Coster said. Spokesmen for the two unions were not immediately available.
The school district, one of Long Island's largest with about 9,000 students, said it was forced to rebid its contract with East End after the firm demanded an additional $5.5 million per year for the last three years of its five-year contract.
In a statement, the school district said the extra compensation was "unreasonable and unauthorized by the competitive bidding law." Said Coster: "We cannot make unilateral changes in a contract."
On Friday, Medford-based East End in a statement disputed the school district's account, saying: "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."
East End added: "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, which needs a total of around 200 bus drivers to serve the school district, was the lowest responsible bidder for the new contract, though it will cost the school district about $2 million more than the original contact with East End, Beggins said.
The school district might sue East End to recover that expense. "We would like to be made whole," Beggins said. The problems they said the bus company caused have been reported to the state comptroller, the state Department of Education and a local state representative, school officials said, in hopes they will exert their regulatory authority.
Coster, recalling a 2003 bus strike, said there was a risk that parents and children again might be inconvenienced, with some forced to rely on car pools and some classes beginning before all of the pupils had arrived.
The website for the school district, which serves Shirley, Mastic, Mastic Beach and Moriches, has questions and answers on the dispute. Large bus drivers, it says, make about $22.80 per hour. The school spokesman said if all the bus drivers had not been hired by the start of the school year, it would contact parents by telephone, social media, and other methods.