ALBANY, N.Y. — Two school transportation associations are appealing to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature to sufficiently fund New York’s school transportation system during and after the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to prevent greater financial hardship.
The New York State Bus Distributors Association (NYSBDA) says that adequate funding is necessary to make sure the state’s school bus fleets are ready after the conclusion of the pandemic to once again transport the state’s more than 2.3 million students, according to a news release from the association. Financial support is also essential to help save the school transportation industry from potential insolvency caused by the resulting school closures, according to the association.
“This is an unprecedented time in our state’s history and our first priority should be the health of our citizens and the eradication of the Coronavirus,” said Robert Reichenbach, NYSBDA’s president. “However, we cannot forget about other essential services provided by our government. Our school transportation system is vital to the state’s public education system and it must be prioritized as such in the context of state budget negotiations.”
The NYSBDA added that it is seeing member companies laying off hundreds of employees across the state due to school closures and talks of cuts to school districts coming from Albany could mean even more school bus distributor layoffs. Moreover, if the state budget doesn’t provide for continuous funding for school transportation and a mechanism for school districts to vote on their budgets, it could mean tens of thousands of union and non-union school transportation workers across the state will lose their jobs.
Michael Sweeney, president of the New York Association for Pupil Transportation (NYAPT), echoed the NYSBDA’s concerns.
“School bus operations in our state must be funded properly to provide services when schools reopen,” he said. “There has been significant disruption in the educational process as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and it is our goal to resume services when called upon by our school districts without hesitation. Proper funding of transportation operations and new school bus acquisition is key to achieving that goal.”
The major problem school bus distributors currently face, according to the NYSBDA, is meeting the anticipated transportation needs of school districts in time for start of the new school year in September while schools wrestle with this unprecedented budget uncertainty. This could severely delay new, safer, more environmentally friendly school buses from being placed in service throughout the state.
If school districts can’t meet their obligations because of severe budget cuts, school bus distributors will be forced to pay millions of dollars in interest costs to hold the buses until the districts can pay for them, the NYSBDA said. This is an unanticipated expense that is not factored into the cost of the buses, according to the association, and will essentially bankrupt the industry, force companies to close, and leave school districts without the public-private partnerships they have formed with school bus distributors over many decades.
“The entire school transportation system is under a great deal of stress because school districts have rightly been closed due to the threat of the Coronavirus,” Reichenbach said. “But we cannot let the virus destroy our school transportation system, and we must not let it negatively impact the future safety of the 2.3 million children who ride a yellow school bus each day to school.”
The NYSBDA is also asking that the state work with school districts to ensure school budget votes go forward soon and that schools be provided with the guidance and necessary resources to protect citizens from the threat of the Coronavirus.
“The governor and legislature are demonstrating extraordinary leadership during this time of crisis and we all truly appreciate their service,” Reichenbach said. “We are hopeful they understand the urgency and importance of providing adequate funding for our school districts. It’s critical that school districts have the minimum resources they need to keep children safe by replacing their older school buses and to properly maintain them throughout the year.”
Mike Martucci, a former school bus contractor and candidate for the 42nd state Senate district, is also asking Cuomo and the state Legislature to not lose sight of the importance of education funding, and to make it a priority in this year’s state budget.
“It is critical that we fund our schools and their transportation operations so our school transportation professionals can be paid and receive their health care coverage,” said Martucci, who is also the past president of the New York School Bus Contractors Association. “It is critical not just because we need them to safely transport our children, but because during this crisis, school transportation professionals are being called upon to deliver meals to families and provide essential transport to those in need. The state must provide guidance to schools so that school transportation providers can be paid and school districts can properly maintain their school bus fleets with new buses, parts, and service.”