Boston superintendent anticipates smooth Day 1

BOSTON — In about 12 hours, dozens of school buses will begin rolling from expansive lots in Dorchester, Roxbury and on Industrial Drive as the new school year begins in Boston.

“We have been communicating with families over the past couple of weeks because we just want them to be ready in case we do have some bumpy roads ahead with busing,” said Boston School Superintendent Dr. Brenda Casselius. “But we really have been throwing everything at this to ensure that we have a smooth start for our students and for our families.”

A big part of that ‘smooth start’ slid into place at the 11th hour when the city reached a contract extension agreement with the bus drivers’ union, United Steelworkers Local 8175.

Work continues on a new collective bargaining agreement. And among the issues likely under discussion: concerns raised in a union press release last week regarding this year’s route bidding process, which it termed “by far the worst fiasco we’ve witnessed in our careers.”

The union charges that route bidding was conducted much later than usual and that this school year includes more than a hundred routes beyond the previous school year. Traditionally, bus drivers, who are paid hourly, bid on routes based on seniority. Longer routes with older children are often considered preferable.

Local 8175 called this year’s bidding process in Boston ‘tainted’ and even called on BPS to postpone in-school learning. But that is not going to happen.

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“We’re in contract negotiations with the union and have been,” Casselius said. “We were able to settle the contract yesterday with an extension. We’ll still be at the table for their collective bargaining agreement for all the other matters. But in that, we were able to provide some incentives to bus drivers for their attendance as well as to pay them extra for coming earlier.”

Casselius said ‘earlier’ means reporting to the bus lots at 4:45 Thursday morning to help ensure the buses roll out on time.

“We also have been working with the company directly, Transdev,” Casselius said. “I met with the CEO myself a few weeks ago so that we have the operational support.”

Transdev will have 14 company officials in the bus yards to help keep things rolling on Day 1, the superintendent said. Casselius said the overall tight labor market and, perhaps, fear of contracting COVID has made it difficult to hire drivers, though the system recently added another 35.

“We also have a hundred stand-by drivers that many people don’t know about in case there are absences,” she said. “Those drivers don’t get regular routes. We plug them in where needed.”

Is a last-minute job action possible, such as happened one morning in October 2013, leaving students and parents stranded?

“We’re doing everything we can to ensure that the buses roll and that our bus drivers know they are valued members of our team here at Boston Public Schools,” Casselius said. “So I don’t believe we will be having a strike tomorrow.”