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New York City school bus strike would be city-wide headache, keep many kids home indefinitely

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NEW YORK (PIX11) — The school bus strike set to begin Wednesday will not only directly affect 150,000 families, it may keep a sizable portion of those families’ students at home for the foreseeable future, and will end up making everybody else’s commute that much harder.

“You’re not only going to be dealing with regular traffic, you’re also going to be dealing with other parents who have to take their kids as well,” said Roseanna Incantalupo, the mother of a 17-year-old girl who needs a wheelchair-equipped bus to get around.

Incantalupo also has a 10-year-old who rides a school bus every day as well.  On Wednesday, and for as long as the school bus strike lasts, the mother who lives in Prince’s Bay, Staten Island,  will have to figure out a way to get both of her daughters to school every day.

School bus strike

The bus union says members feel they have no choice but to strike to ensure their demands are met.

“It’s not easy for the typical person,” said Incantalupo, gesturing air quotes, “but when you have someone who’s disabled, it’s ten times harder.”

Incantalupo, 41, will have to drive from the southwest end of Staten Island to the northeast end.  It’s about a 12-mile drive, but Staten Island is notorious for traffic during rush hour, and a winter storm is expected during Wednesday morning’s rush.

The mother of two told PIX11 News that to get her children and a neighbor’s child with whom she van pools to school on time, it is going to take a major effort, and maybe even a miracle.

“With no traffic… [for one daughter alone it’s] 40 minutes to get her there, and then 40 minutes to come home, then 40 minutes to go back in the afternoon for pickup.”

That loss of time — at least two hours — translates into lost productivity during the for the mother who works from home.  “I guess I’ll work at night,” she said with a sigh.

However, she considers herself lucky because she has the flexibility and resources to make the extra commuting possible.  The city has given free Metrocards to students whose school buses won’t pick them up during a strike, and has also offered to reimburse families for the use of livery cars, or to pay families 55 cents per mile if they have to drive their children to school.

For as many as 55,000 families, those options are not viable.

The family of Merieme Rafiek of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, is among those families.  “The [only] solution is to keep the bus,” she told PIX11 News.

Her husband needs the family car to get to work at 7 a.m., and can’t be late or miss work.  Their oldest son, who’s 9-years-old and has a spectrum disorder, attends school 15 miles from the Rafieks’ home, on Roosevelt Island.

To get there, Merieme Rafiek said, requires three different subway trains and a bus, if they use public transportation.

However, she also has an 8- year-old daughter whose autism is severe enough that she can’t handle many external stimuli like subways or buses Her school bus really is the only way for her to get to her specialized school.  Since travel options are extremely limited, Rafiek said that she has no choice but to keep her two special needs children at home.

“Mr. Bloomberg,” she implored, “Think about me and other parents also.  We really need the bus!”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg reiterated on Tuesday that he believes the city cannot by law grant the school bus drivers’ union its central demand: that its members receive a guarantee of job security at their current rate of pay which, for some drivers, is more than $25 per hour.

The union, the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1181, insists that their request for job security is legal.  They say they feel they have no choice but to strike to ensure their demands are met.

The mayor has also said that he wants to renegotiate the contracts of the bus companies that own the buses the drivers use.  Currently, the transportation contracts consume about $1 billion of the school system’s $24 billion budget, averaging about $6,900 per student who rides a school bus.  The country’s next largest school system, the Los Angeles Unified School District, spends about half that amount per student.

The last time there was a school bus strike in New York City was in 1979.  It lasted three months.

If this strike lasts even half that long, child advocates say tens of thousands of students will not receive the education they’re entitled to.

“For those parents, it’s going to be really hard or impossible for [their] kids to get to school,” said Kim Madden, lead attorney for Advocates For Children New York, a children’s issues advocacy organization.  “MetroCards and reimbursement just won’t be enough.”

Her organization is calling on the city and the bus driver’s union to come to an agreement soon.  The organization is also asking the city government to make Access-A-Ride service more widely available for students while the strike is under way.

3 comments

  • Chiarabel Soler

    Every parent who is feeling the effects of this strike is going through what i went through with my autistic 6 yr old son over and over again with OPT and his EX school PS.396 in the Bronx where he was in the NEST program, and because of mistakes on his IEP he was out of school for the first month of school in kindergarten when he was just 5yrs old! over a typo was what they explained to me!!! Then things got alot worse when he finally did get a bus after my non stop calls to OPT, his school never helped me, they saw me paying out of my own pocket and 8 months pregnant nad turned the other cheek when i came in to drop him off! The bus he finally got was an even worse nightmare when my child confessed to me that for the 4 months he rode the new bus he was being touched by older 4th and 5th graders (from his school) in his private areas while riding to and from school!!!! Again the school played dumb, lied to me and ignored my child, he was out of school for the rest of the school year and they never contacted me! i had an impartial hearing and was supposed to have a para on the bus with him as well as a new bus which the school principal was against, MS. Tine wanted my son to stay on the same bus!!! With the same kids!!! Today my son is in a school he does not belong in near our house because he again was home for the whole September due to no para ever showing up!! school began on the 6th of September and his principal sent me a letter on the 20th letting me know no para could take the job due to some bogus excuse she made up! I am thankful the school he is in now took him in, its a good school, nice faculty however my son is lost school work wise, its so wrong how my son was treated by OPT and his old school ps 396 was no help and did not advocate for him, I had to. And I won't rest until that school has light shined on them for sweeping all they did to him under a rug!! I feel for parents of children who have no bus today! Been there, done that!!

  • ventura airporter

    Vehicles strike whether bus or truck always being a headache to people. Generally everyone depends upon bus to travel somewhere. The buses also used for official purpose. In these cases the need of bus is very essential.
    Government and private buses are normally used for the transportation of the people. School buses are always in time to carry the students to their respective schools. The school children travel through school buses and return to home in the same. If the School bus strikes then it will be the major problem to the school children and their parents as well as to the schools.

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