The following are Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s remarks as delivered at City Hall today.
“Good afternoon, everyone. Last month, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and I announced the possibility that the school bus drivers’ union would call a system-wide strike or job action.
“We also described then the steps the City had taken to ensure that a strike would present the least possible hardship to students and their families.
“Unfortunately, it now looks like that the union – Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union – will go on strike this week, possibly on Wednesday.
“Reports are that the union will hold a press conference at 4:30 PM today, so we may know more about their plans then, but all of this is just speculation, and if they do or do not strike, change the time or the date, I don’t want you to hold it to us. This is just the best intelligence of scuttlebutt that we’ve gotten so far.
“However, should they decide to strike, it would necessarily jeopardize the education and safety of the more than 150,000 students who take school buses every single day, in a year when our students have already missed a week or more of school because of Hurricane Sandy. We certainly don’t need to make it more difficult to get to school.
“We have told the unions in unequivocal terms: Do not walk out on our students. A strike would be not only unfair to children and families, it would be totally misguided – because the City cannot legally offer what the unions are demanding.
“Have you ever heard of a strike where one side is demanding something that the courts have ruled illegal? It is just meshugana, as we say in Gaelic.
“Here are the facts: New York City pays $1.1 billion each year for school busing, or an average of $6,900 per student. Back in 1979, for slightly fewer students, we paid $100 million. So more than ten times the money since 1979 for only about 25 percent more students. And the $6,900 per student is far more than any other school system in our country. For example, Los Angeles just pays $3,100 per student. And the monies that we spend on transportation are monies that we don’t have to put into our school system. Or you could look at it another way and say they’re more taxes than the people have to pay if we didn’t have that expense.
“To cut down on the cost and transfer these savings to the classroom, we would need to open the contracts to new bidders. Last year, we bid out contracts for pre-school bus routes, and the new contracts are right now saving taxpayers $95 million over five years. That money is going back into the classrooms where it’s needed the most. That’s how we pay our teachers, that’s how to pay the interest on the debt to have sports facilities and lunch room facilities and library facilities and to keep our students safe in their schools.
“This year, to save more money, we’re bidding out contracts for another 1,100 bus routes. The contracts for those routes expire on June 30th of this year – so we need to have new contracts to be signed before the next school year.
“Unfortunately, the school bus drivers’ union is demanding that the bids include job protections the City is not legally allowed to provide.
“During a prior bid attempt, under circumstances that were essentially the same as those this year, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that the City could not legally include the job protection provision the union is demanding.
“This decision was not just the decision of the Appeals Court, it was the decision written by the head judge of that body. This provision is the only reason the union is calling a strike.
“They will pretend that this is about safety, but the fact is these contracts include the exact same safety provisions as the current contracts, and they require that all bus drivers are certified and have completed the mandatory trainings.
“This isn’t about safety; it’s about job protections the City cannot legally offer, and yet the union is threatening to strike anyway.
“If a strike does happen, we have a plan in place to help all affected students get to school and minimize hardships for families, but we have to go ahead with this bidding because we need the money in the classroom where it belongs.
“Let me walk you through the elements of what we’re going to do to mitigate the pain if, in fact, the union strikes to try to make it somewhat less inconvenient for our students who are trying to get to school. And these kids are students who really do need buses, these are a lot of special ed kids.
“First, students who currently receive yellow school bus service can get a temporary MetroCard valid as long as the strike continues. They will be distributed at schools, and schools will work to make sure that every student who needs one gets one. The Department of Education has informed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that it may need to accommodate additional riders.
“Parents of children in grades K through 2 can request an additional MetroCard if they have to escort their child to school. So can parents of children who require transportation from their homes directly to their school.
“Parents of children in grades K through 6 who get yellow bus service and for whom public transportation to school is not an option, in other words there isn’t any public transportation where they live, they can get reimbursed for transportation costs. If the parents decide to drive their children to school, they’ll be reimbursed at a rate of 55 cents per mile. If they use a taxi or car service, they’ll be reimbursed after completing a form available in their schools.
“Students who arrive at school late because of disruptions to yellow bus service will be excused for up to two hours. Students who are unable to attend school because of disruptions to yellow bus service will be marked absent with an explanation code that will ensure their attendance record is not negatively affected.
“And afterschool programs will remain open, but unfortunately no school busing will be provided.
“There are some other steps we are taking to minimize the impact of this disruption and keep our kids safe. The NYPD, as you know, will deploy additional transit officers and crossing guards to help manage an increase in the number of students using public transportation and walking to school. Additional school safety officers will also be deployed to public schools.
“The Taxi and Limousine Commission will issue an alert to all licensees to anticipate increased demand and have the maximum number of cars available.
“At the same time, the Department of Education will be posting materials online for every grade and core subject so that students who can’t get to school during the strike can continue their learning at home, but we urge all families to do everything possible to find a way to get our kids to schools where they can have a great teacher in front of them and they can continue to get the education they’re going to need to survive and to prosper in America.
“Even with all these measures in place, however, a system-wide strike would present, we understand, significant challenges for students and families – and threaten the education of our kids during a year when they have already, as I said before, missed a week of school as a result of Sandy.
“We all hope that the drivers’ union will do the right thing and not strike at the expense of City schoolchildren and taxpayers. But the City is prepared for a strike, and we’ll do everything we can to help students and parents get through it.
“If you have further questions, you should call 311. You can also check NYC.gov for updates.
“Now let me turn the floor over to our Schools Chancellor, Dennis Walcott. Dennis?”