Late-Night Meetings, Secret Ballots And A Bus Driver Revolt: What Happened Behind-The -Scenes During The District Bus Crisis

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Schools Superintendent Edward Seto said the district administration handled the recent bus crisis “flawlessly.”

Stung by criticism that they needlessly waited until the last minute to decide to close schools on Jan. 6 due to concerns over the district’s main bus contractor, district administrators have released more details about what happened during the time leading up to the decision and its aftermath.

Schools Superintendent Edward Seto late in the evening of Jan. 5 decided to close township schools because a day of meeting with company management and bus drivers left him unconvinced that the carrier, Atlantic Express Transportation Corp. of Staten Island, would be able to pick up all the students on its 56 routes.

Atlantic has been embroiled in bankruptcy proceedings since late November, 2013. The company had assured the district that it could continue operations into January while its assets were being sold. The federal Bankruptcy Court judge hearing the case approved the company’s request to maintain the How Lane terminal, from which the company serviced the township.

Seto and the administration came under harsh criticism from some parents at the Jan. 6 Board of Education reorganization meeting for waiting until 9 p.m. Jan. 5 to notify parents that school would be closed the next day.

Seto and some of his administrators said Jan. 8 that there was no way they could have done so any earlier.

It wasn’t until after the second of two meetings held Jan. 5 with bus drivers that administrators were convinced Atlantic was not being truthful with them when company management said it could handle the routes, Seto said.

That’s because the first meeting with management, bus drivers and the drivers’ union representatives left Gary Peatick, the district’s transportation supervisor, and school board attorney Robert Tosti with the feeling that drivers would show up for work the next day.

But, Peatick said, while he and Tosti were in another room making phone calls after Atlantic management and the union reps had left, they were approached by a driver who said other drivers wanted to talk to them.

“Thirty three drivers said they were willing to drive, but not for Atlantic, because they didn’t think they were going to get paid.” Peatick said.

District business administrator John Calavano said the drivers showed him a letter from Atlantic informing the drivers that their jobs were terminated as of Dec. 31, 2013.

“Their last pay checks said ‘final pay’ on them,” he said.

Seto said that Atlantic management still maintained they could service the district, but he was not convinced.

“God forbid we didn’t have enough bus drivers to pick up the kids, and it was going to be like 6 degrees the next morning,” he said.

school bus drivers

Many district bus drivers attended the Jan. 6 Board of Education meeting when the board transferred their routes to another company.

The second meeting didn’t begin until after 7 p.m., the administrators said, which is why the decision to close schools Jan. 6 was made so late in the evening.

“Could we have informed parents any sooner?” Seto asked. “Absolutely not.”

The next day, a group of 51 drivers met with Seto and other administrators in the Franklin High School library, Peatick said.

A secret ballot among the drivers showed that eight were willing to drive for the company, two did not know and 41 said they would not drive for Atlantic.

“We would have been missing at least 41 bus drivers,” Seto said. “we would have had thousands of kids stranded.”

It wasn’t until about 6 p.m. Jan. 6 that Atlantic finally admitted that it could not service the contract, Seto said.

The district needed Atlantic’s permission to move on to its “Plan B,” he said. That plan involved transferring the Atlantic routes to another company, Montauk Transit Service of Medford, N.Y.

That was done at the board’s Jan. 6 reorganization meeting. The board was originally supposed to meet – and discuss and possibly take action on the proposed Montauk contract – on Jan. 2, but a snow storm forced the meeting’s postponement.

Calavano said that was fortunate, because the district received a letter on Jan. 3 from Atlantic’s bankruptcy attorney, stating that any such action would violate federal bankruptcy laws and would be nullified.

“As far as I’m concerned, this was handled flawlessly,” Seto said of the incident.

Calavano said the first day of Montauk’s taking over the routes, Jan. 6, went well.

Montauk, he said, bought 60 buses and is using the How Lane, New Brunswick, terminal for their base.


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