The pandemic has hit our state like no other and we all mourn those who have left us during these trying times. As we look to help our state recover from this horrible and unprecedented crisis, we must ensure important services, like our schools and school transportation, are able to answer the call when schools reopen this fall.
Few people across the state are aware that our school transportation system represents one of New York’s most important and largest public-private partnerships. Even fewer understand the deleterious effects that the pandemic is having on the school transportation industry.
On Long Island, thousands of school bus workers have lost their jobs. One of the largest private school transportation providers recently announced that it is closing its doors and that 1,400 employees no longer have jobs. Meanwhile, the situation is similar upstate with some school transportation companies and school bus dealers laying-off significant amounts of their workforce.
One of the primary factors contributing to companies closing and people losing their jobs is the lack of assurance from the state of New York that schools will be reimbursed for transportation expenses.
The primary source of revenue for the private school transportation industry is our public schools, which get their funding from local property taxes and the state of New York. Some schools provide transportation services by contracting with private school transportation providers – and almost every school utilizes a school bus dealership to purchase school buses and provide vital service and support of their school bus fleets.
So, when the primary source of revenue for these companies is turned off, many are likely to go out of business or be drastically transformed causing major disruptions for school districts. Even though there is funding to pay for school transportation, many schools are fearful that they will not receive it from the state as budget allocations may be cut if state revenue does not meet projections.
A breakdown of the public-private partnership could lead to school districts being unable to provide adequate transportation services to communities all across the state as highlighted by the New York Association for Pupil Transportation on The Capitol Press Room with Dave Lombardo this past week.
Given the essential nature of what the private school transportation industry does each day, the necessity to have plans in place to address the spread of COVID-19, and the economic uniqueness of a school transportation system that will eventually have to respond immediately to transporting more than 2.3 million students daily, it is crucial to the survival of the industry that school districts be provided the budgetary assurance they need.
School districts and school bus contractors were already having a difficult time filling open driver positions prior to the Coronavirus, uncertainty in the marketplace will not make it any easier for them. Many school bus drivers, who have been vetted and can be trusted around our children, will turn to other industries if displaced from their current jobs, and are likely to never return, taking their years of experience and training with them. This makes it very difficult for school districts and school bus contractors to provided adequate school transportation.
Sadly, New York’s students and families will pay the price when schools reopen and there are not enough school bus drivers and buses to safely take them to school.