By Connor Linskey
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, many school bus drivers have been getting paid while others have not.
Although the health crisis caused schools to close, many bus drivers have been getting paid and are working to deliver meals as well as information packets. Local private bus companies such as Rolling V Transportation in South Fallsburg and Mid-City Transit in Middletown can still serve districts while schools are closed due to COVID-19.
Despite President Donald Trump signing a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that includes a provision aimed at ensuring school district employees remain on payroll during school closures, anxiety continues to build among student transporters, especially those who aren’t getting paid or have been recently furloughed.
School district funding allocations in many areas were reallocated as soon as schools closed. This caused many drivers to be laid off, which denied them from earning health benefits. When schools reopen this fall they will face the difficult task of retaining bus drivers who have left to find other jobs. Nicole Epstein, a spokesperson for the New York School Bus Contractors Association, pointed out in April that about half of school bus drivers in the state had not been paid during the pandemic.
A shortage of bus drivers is nothing new for schools in New York State. Many schools look to hire each year, however they are seeing a greater impact because of the pandemic.
New York Association of Pupil Transportation Executive Director David Christopher noted that part of the problem is the driver demographic. Many school bus drivers are retired and their age and medical condition may put them at a greater risk of contracting the virus.
Like every transportation company in the nation, Orange County Transit LLC in Maybrook has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The company buses students in the Wallkill and Valley Central school districts. Wallkill paid the company a negotiated discount. At this time, Valley Central had not paid Orange County Transit LLC, however the two are trying to reach a settlement.
In preparation for the upcoming school year, the transportation company is working with all the school districts they serve, the Orange County Health Department and guidance from the state. Students will wear masks while being transported. Deep cleaning procedures will take place in order to keep students and drivers safe.
“Every day going into this is going to be an adventure and a challenge for everybody including the children,” said Orange County Transit LLC Owner John Mensch. “We are all asked to do our best but we gotta follow the guidelines and that’s what we’re doing. Until we actually physically go back I don’t know what it’s gonna be like and if we’re even gonna be able to stay open if people get sick.”
Mensch said his company has not laid off its drivers during the pandemic.
Michael Pacella, assistant superintendent for business at the Pine Bush Central School District, noted that the district has been paying their bus contractor Birnie Bus Service, Inc. during the pandemic at a lower negotiated figure.