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Three Mass. school districts prepare for possible bus driver strike

School leaders in Framingham, Marlborough and Westborough are making contingency plans in case bus drivers in the districts go on strike Monday.

Teachers Local 170, the union that represents school bus drivers and bus monitors, notified districts on April 27 of a possible strike starting May 8 if the union can't reach new contract agreements with employer North Reading Transportation (NRT), the school's transportation vendor.

All three school systems have sent letters home to families warning them about potential disruption. Officials have also surveyed families to gauge how many students will be left without other school transportation options if a strike happens.

In Westborough, the district is planning to extend school pick-up and drop-off times to accommodate anticipated traffic backups. School officials are encouraging families to carpool and adding staff to monitor crosswalks. In an attempt to cut down on traffic, Westborough superintendent Amber Bock asked families transporting older children to find a location close to school for morning drop-off.

"Let them walk the last part in order to limit the number of cars dropping off all at once," Bock said in a letter to parents.

School leaders in Marlborough are also making contingency plans in case buses don't run Monday. Typically about 3,800 kids in that district take the bus to school each day. Officials plan to run a limited number of buses that will stop in areas with the highest concentration of students who need a ride. For students who take a special education mini-bus to school, NRT is providing the district with alternate drivers — however, the district is warning families that there will likely be pick-up and drop-off delays.

Framingham officials have similar plans in the works. About 5,400 students regularly ride the school bus in that district, although district leaders estimate around 1,500 of those kids will be able to find an alternate way to school in the event of a strike.

"We are working collaboratively with City Officials, the MetroWest Regional Transportation Authority (MWRTA), and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to get our students to school," said Framingham School officials in a letter to parents.

Superintendent Bob Tremblay added that the district is also planning to send school meals home to students who can't get a ride to class.

"School is more than just teaching and learning for our students," Tremblay said. "It's where nutrition is served and so much more. We're committed to all of that and we're going to stay focused on that work."

Tremblay said he's hopeful that the drivers and NRT Bus, which is a subsidiary of Beacon Mobility, will come to an agreement in time for school next week.

"I'm hopeful there will be a peaceful resolution on this," he said. "But I don't like the fact that our students are used as a lever here."

Teamsters Local 170 has not responded to a request for comment. In the 10-day strike notices sent to Marlborough, Westborough and Framingham, union leaders said "NRT continues to refuse to reach a fair contract for bus drivers and monitors."

"We understand that a strike will be disruptive to school operations and may cause hardship for families," the letter added.

In a statement, NRT officials said they made a "generous offer" to the union Thursday night but that they did not accept it and walked away from the negotiations table.

"Since January 2023, NRT has actively and respectfully negotiated in good faith with the union," said NRT Bus in a written statement. "This week we have negotiated every day late into the night and reached tentative agreements on several critical points. Based on those discussions, we believed that we were close to reaching a complete agreement."

All of the parties involved say they are hopeful that they can reach a contract agreement before school starts Monday morning.

Carrie Jung Senior Reporter, Education
Carrie is a senior education reporter.



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