School bus service on St. Croix suspended
Published: August 31, 2013
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ST. CROIX - Students in the St. Croix district may be ready for school with new uniforms, books and other supplies, but hundreds may be stranded on bus stops come Tuesday after the V.I. Education Department announced Friday afternoon there will be no school bus services provided.
Acting Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory said Friday that ongoing negotiations with Abramson Enterprises Inc. have stalled, with company officials making the decision Wednesday not to provide school bus service to students for the upcoming school year.
Frett-Gregory said in a statement issued Friday that the department is up-to-date on its payments to Abramson Enterprises and that the decision to halt bus service came after the two sides could not come to a agreement on a few key issues regarding a new contract.
Frett-Gregory said that for more than a year, Education officials and a team of negotiators from the Property and Procurement and V.I. Justice departments had been negotiating with the bus company on a five-year agreement but both sides have been unable to come to terms on a new pact.
She said the department tried to engage Abramson Enterprises officials in further discussion Friday, but the company's head refused to come to the phone.
Calls by The Daily News to the Abramson Enterprises office on Friday afternoon also went unanswered.
Education spokeswoman Ananta Pancham said the department is exploring as many alternative plans as possible. St. Croix School Superintendant Gary Molloy and his staff have been proactive in trying to engage VITRAN as an alternative possibility or even shipping some buses from St. Thomas to St. Croix to avoid a long-standing situation, Pancham said.
Frett-Gregory said the department's only goal now is to avoid any disruption at the start of the school year that would negatively impact students' schooling
At this point, the Education Department is asking parents to help transport their children to and from school and to provide carpool assistance to those who may not have alternatives.
Abramson Enterprises' previous five-year contract with the Education Department expired in September 2012, and since then, bus services have been provided on a month-to-month basis, according to Frett-Gregory.
She said department officials recently proposed an interim two-year contract, and it appeared that the terms of that agreement were accepted until Wednesday, when the company advised them that it no longer would honor its commitment to provide bus service to the students of St. Croix when the new school year opens on Tuesday unless the Education Department agreed to their terms.
"That AEI has chosen to suspend bus service while the parties try to come to an agreement on financial demands AEI made less than two weeks ago - which will force VIDE to pay approximately $317,964 up-front - is unfortunate," Frett-Gregory said in the prepared statement. "We have already agreed to a 5 percent increase for the school year, but giving the company the up-front funding is something that the department can ill afford in this current economic environment."
Parents and guardians also are upset about the company's decision not to provide bus service.
Allora Stienner, said she is tired of adults, using the education and well-being of the children as ammunition to work against the government.
"The government and the Education Department is just limping along day-by-day, and for a company to decide to jeopardize the welfare of the children because they want more money or more stability, is just wrong," Stienner said.
"We have to put the children first, and they should do the right thing and be a good community business and provide the services."
Tharsis Vlaun said the news puts a damper on the students and creates unnecessary stress and anxiety as they get ready for a new school year.
"My son is already anxious about going to seventh grade, and for him to now not even know how he will get to and from school is stressful on him," she said.
Vlaun said her son would have to walk about a quarter of a mile from her home to the main road to catch a private taxi for $2 one way and then walk close to a mile from the school to the main road to catch another bus back home at the end of the day.
"My budget is already tight, and $4 per day is something that I would not be able to do," she said. "This is crazy. If the department is current on their payments, that company needs to be dealt with because they have no concern for our children and their safety."
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.