NYC Public Schools Back In Session On Wed; First Day Since Strike Ended

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – School buses will be back on New York City’s 7,700 routes Wednesday morning for the first time since the month-long school bus strike came to an end.

A deal ending the strike was reached late Friday and public schools are off until Wednesday on an abbreviated mid-winter break.

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New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the city spent about $20.6 million on transport costs to get affected students to school, but saved about $80 million in salaries that were not paid for the month.

On Tuesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the kids are the real winners. He said new contracts for bus drivers and matrons mean more money going into the schools.

“When we rebid the contracts for pre-K kids, busing them, we save something like $95 million over five years. Those monies go into the classroom. We don’t know how much this is going to save yet because we are still evaluating all the bids, but it looks like it will be a very substantial amount of money,” Bloomberg told reporters including WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb.

The mayor added that the city should constantly be finding ways to reduce expenses.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 ended its walkout on Friday evening after union leaders were assured by prospective New York City mayoral candidates that their concerns about job protection would be heard after this year’s election. They went on strike Jan. 16.

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“We are glad to welcome back the local 1181 drivers and matrons,” Walcott said on Monday. “Their children have missed them – and we need them back so our children can get to school.”

Just 152,000 of New York City’s 1.1 million public schoolchildren ride yellow school buses, but many are disabled or have no other easy way to get to school. The city provided transit cards for students and is reimbursing parents for taxi fares and gas mileage needed to get students to school during the strike. But Walcott said it was a struggle for many parents, and some students didn’t make it to class.

Some 800 special education students across the city were re-routed, and parents should check with their schools to determine when the students would be back on regular routes, Walcott said.

“Wednesday will be a good day for our students, they will be able to get back to school riding on yellow buses,” he said.

The school bus strike was the first in the city since 1979. About 5,000 of the city’s 7,700 routes were affected.

The cost of busing students has risen from $100 million in 1979 to $1.1 billion today, prompting Bloomberg to insist the city must seek new bus contracts to cut costs. Walcott said so far there have been about 60 different contract bids and city officials are going through them and looking for the best, most cost-effective solutions.

Union leaders were heartened by a letter written by five Democrats vying for the nomination to succeed Bloomberg as mayor next year asking them to return to work. The candidates – City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, City Comptroller John Liu, former City Comptroller Bill Thompson and former Councilman Sal Albanese – said that if elected, they will revisit the job security issue.

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