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Board of Education Contracts With New Bus Company, Schools Set To Re-open Jan. 7

Two hectic days of meetings and negotiations – highlighted by an apparent revolt by bus drivers against their former company – ended Jan. 6 with the Board of Education transferring the contract for the bulk of the district’s school bus routes to a new company.

The move means that schools will be open on Jan. 7.

If board members breathed any sighs of relief from that decision, they were short-lived. A number of angry parents spoke during the meeting’s public portion to berate the board and administration for not having a contingency plan and for waiting so long on Jan. 5 to close schools.

The deal on the bus routes was struck about an hour before the board was set to meet for its rescheduled reorganization meeting at Franklin Middle School. The meeting was originally scheduled for Jan. 2, but was canceled due to the snow storm.

Under the contract, Montauk Transit Service of Medford, N.Y. will assume the approximately 56 routes previously held by Atlantic Express Transportation Corp. of Staten Island, N.Y. Atlantic declared bankruptcy late last year and is in the process of selling its assets.

Montauk also purchased 60 buses to handle the route, board secretary John Calavano said.

But that agreement did not come easily.

District officials met with Atlantic representatives up until about 9 p.m. on Jan. 5, and then all day Jan. 6, attempting to get a definitive statement on when Atlantic could no longer provide its services to the district, board attorney Robert Tosti said at the board meeting.

The company refused to specify a cut-off date both days, he said. The matter came to a head between 6-6:30 p.m. Jan. 5, Tosti said, when, in the face of Atlantic maintaining that it could still perform the contract, the company’s drivers said they would not work for it.

“That crystallized at about 6:30 p.m.,” he said. That gave district officials doubts that Atlantic could run its routes and prompted schools Superintendent Edward Seto to decide shortly before 9 p.m. to close schools on Jan. 6.

Atlantic still contended that it could perform the contract when the two sides first met on Jan. 6, Tosti said. Soon, though, Atlantic admitted that it could not, which cleared the way for the district to begin legal proceedings that would allow it to cancel the Atlantic contract and transfer it to Montauk.

NGM Insurance Company, the company holding the performance bond for Atlantic, suggested Montauk.

Calavano said the contract – valued at $3.3 million – runs through the rest of this school year and is renewable for the 2014-2015 school year.

He said he didn’t see any reason why the contract would not be renewed.

Montauk will use its own buses, but will assume the Atlantic bus terminal on How Lane in New Brunswick, he said.

The board was set to discuss and vote on the matter had the reorganization meeting been held on Jan. 2. That agenda item was removed earlier in the day on Jan. 6, but was replaced during the meeting that night after the board went into executive session to discuss it.

Under the contract, Montauk will be paid twice monthly, instead of the traditional monthly.

Board members and district administrators got an earful from angry parents during the meeting. The parents were upset at the perceived lack of planning on the district’s part, and that the decision to close schools was made late on a Sunday evening.

Kim Thorne of Somerset told the board that it needed to be more transparent in situations such as the bus crisis.

“We have no idea what’s going on,” she said. “You were not transparent in letting the staff and the parents know what was going on.”

Amy Gallant of East Millstone said she was “appalled” at the 9 p.m. phone blast from the district to tell parents schools were closed.

“How are parents who work supposed to find coverage for their children at 9 p.m. on a Sunday?” she asked. “We were blindsided today, and I am appalled.”

Matthew Zavatsky of Somerset told the board that his child is taken to school by another bus company, which apparently didn’t get the mssage that schools were closed.

“Our bus driver showed up this morning,” he said. “I can’t tell you how much confusion that caused.”

Ardeman Singh of Somerset told the board that other districts using Atlantic “did not have to close today. They had contingency plans.”

She said the late notice of the closing forced her to take a day off from work.

“I’ve already taken four days off, and this is only January,” she said. “I only get six days off a year. What are parents like me supposed to do?”

 

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