Metro, News

Elorza seeks to restore school transportation

As bus driver strike enters second week, Elorza considers replacing drivers, busing company

By
Contributing Writer
Thursday, October 11, 2018

Mayor Jorge Elorza (centre), City Council President David Salvatore (center-right), School Board President Nicholas Hemond (left) and Providence Public Schools Superintendent Christopher Maher (center-left) discussed options for the City if a compromise is not reached by the end of the week.

Mayor Jorge Elorza announced plans to resolve the ongoing disruption of student transportation to Providence Public Schools at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. For over a week, Providence school bus drivers — represented by the Teamsters Local 251 union — have been on strike against First Student, the busing company with which Providence previously had a contract.

The bus drivers are on strike to gain pension plans from their employer First Student, according to WPRI.

To put pressure on the Teamsters drivers and First Student, Elorza, along with City Council President David Salvatore, School Board President Nicholas Hemond and Providence Public Schools Superintendent Christopher Maher, stated the city will seek to replace either the drivers or the busing company or both by issuing requests for proposals if a compromise is not reached by the end of the week.

Officials will issue three requests for proposals. The first request would seek a company to manage vehicles, personnel and operations; the second would only seek to lease a fleet of school buses; and the third would seek a management company to cover operations and drivers but not buses. The requests for proposals would not include “any mention of the pension,” Elorza said.

“We cannot continue to put this burden on our community, and it is not fair that our children are being used as collateral in this private dispute,” Elorza said. “We’re hoping that putting out these RFPs is the necessary pressure (to reach a solution) so that … the strike can end, and we can get back to transporting our 9,000 kids everyday.”

The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union initiated legal action against the Providence Public School District on behalf of students with disabilities earlier Wednesday. In response to the ACLU’s class administrative complaint, Maher said, “We believe that the ACLU and Rhode Island Legal Services are acting with our students’ best interest at heart.”

Elorza acknowledged that the strike amounts to a crisis, one that would take 150 buses or 150 drivers to solve. Elorza said that no state organizations, universities or private entities could meet the demand for drivers or vehicles.

If the parties do not reach a resolution, an RFP for a new busing arrangement could take months to fulfill. Both First Student and the Teamsters Local 251 drivers could lose the Providence Public School District as a client. “Potentially everybody loses,” Elorza said.

“We need to find a vendor that can render the services that the kids need,” Hemond said.

Providence officials have begun conversations with other districts in New England to prevent similar situations from occurring. “I’ve heard the grumblings that ‘It’s Providence this day,’ but this is a dispute that might be played out in maybe other cities potentially in-state and out of state as well.”