NEW YORK - New York City public schools Chancellor David Banks struck an optimistic tone Wednesday in describing what he calls the "potential" school bus strike— primarily because discussions appear to be ongoing.
"This is a very good thing," Banks said. "When both parties are talking they’re not striking."
Department of Education officials say right now the only days they know buses will run are Thursday and Friday of this week. They believe the negotiating parties are meeting again Friday afternoon.
What’s making things murkier is the fact that city officials are not in the room.
"The Department of Education is not at the bargaining table for this agreement," Banks reminded reporters Wednesday at a start of the school year roundtable for the press. "This agreement is being negotiated between bus companies and the ATU (Amalgamated Transit Union)."
If bus drivers strike, 80,000 students would be affected. That’s more than half the city’s public school busing population— a large percentage of which are students with special education needs.
"Rest assured we are not sitting idle," Banks said.
The city’s contingency plans include emergency metro cards for subway and bus trips for families affected and prepaid vouchers for rideshares. Education officials say a remote learning option for students who can't make it to school is not under consideration.
Banks did say that even though buses will run on Thursday for the first day of school, there may still be delays and disruptions. He says as of Wednesday, not all families have received their specific route information, and he’s asking them to be patient.
Further complicating the start of the new school year is the addition of more than 100,000 asylum seekers to the metro since last Spring, many of those families with school aged children.
But Banks says right now the city’s schools can handle it.
"We have room across our system."
But he says there will be more of an effort to spread students around to prevent overcrowding at specific schools.
Bottom line — he says the city has a duty to educate all kids who are here.
Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers, shared that sentiment at an event Wednesday morning.
"We need to take care of these children in front of us. So that’s gonna be the challenge all year," Mulgrew said.