The William Floyd School District has reached an agreement with a bus company to transport the majority of the system’s 9,000 students on large buses by Sept. 17, averting a crisis that left thousands of students and their parents scrambling for ways to get to school.
Members of the board of education said they reached the agreement with First Student bus company after talks that began Tuesday night and concluded on Wednesday, said William Floyd school district Superintendent Kevin Coster and board President Robert Vecchio.
Acme Baumann transported nearly 1,000 special education students as they began class Wednesday with 6,000 other students in kindergarten through ninth grade. The remaining 2,000 students in the 10th, 11th and 12th grade start class on Thursday.
The development means the district now has two contracts with bus firms that will cost just over $15 million a year, the officials said, with First Student will receive $9.2 million for the large buses and Acme Baumann will receive $5.9 million for the minibuses.
“We are more than pleased that our buses will be rolling no later than Sept. 17 so our children and our community can get the services that we’ve been accustomed to so we are very satisfied,” Vecchio said.
The union’s top leader said the agreement is good for her members.
“The membership is very happy,” said Debra Hagan, president of Local 252, which represents drivers who work for First Student and Acme Baumann & Sons Buses, adding that 82 members cast yes votes for the contract Wednesday. “What 252 has said from the beginning is the drivers would not go backward with wages or benefits.”
She said the drivers unanimously approved a four-year agreement with wage increases of 9.5 percent over the life of the contract, “with no givebacks.”
A bus company spokesman welcomed the new contract.
“We’re certainly happy to jump in for the district and provide support,” said Chris Kemper, a spokesman for Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student, adding that the firm is the largest school bus company in the nation. “We believe the vast majority of these employees would have been previous employees of ours so they would not necessarily require the full breadth of our training. We will provide safe and reliable transportation.”
Coster said he was happy with the agreements even though the problems will not be resolved until midmonth.
“I am just very pleased that we will be coming to a resolution ... and I am very thankful that the entire William Floyd school community came together to get our students to school today,” he said, adding that the district reported a 96 percent attendance rate despite the busing crisis.
The problem surfaced last month after the district hired Acme Baumann, claiming its previous company, Medford-based East End Bus Lines Inc., had defaulted on its contract. Coster has said that Local 252 declined to make large-bus drivers available to Acme Baumann, which prompted officials to implement contingency plans as they sought alternative companies.
Vecchio said the district would be taking action against East End, including notifying the state comptroller’s office.