The Utica school district is postponing a scheduled move to hybrid in-person instruction next week amid the COVID-19 pandemic because it says not enough bus drivers through Birnie Bus Service are available, but the Birnie company is disputing the move.
The Utica district is currently using all-remote instruction and planned to phase in hybrid instruction at its elementary schools beginning Monday, but its Board of Education on Tuesday night this week approved a motion stating remote education would be extended.
The motion said the decision was based on notification by the district’s transportation provider that it was unable to fulfill a sufficient number of drivers to cover bus routes for transporting students.
Remote education will continue until the provider can guarantee a sufficient number of drivers, at which time the district will revisit the question of being able to provide in-school classes, the motion further said.
Prior to the board vote, a school district presentation said the Birnie company had only 96 drivers to cover the 127 required bus routes, plus it did not have substitute driver coverage if needed which would equate to 19 more drivers.
However, the Rome-based Birnie company announced Wednesday it was “devastated to learn that the district has sought to shift the blame for the district’s internal decision not to open on Birnie Bus.”
The company said it was “never consulted about this decision and it is disingenuous for the district to try and blame Birnie Bus and our hardworking school bus drivers for a district’s decision not to follow its own previously announced plans.”
In addition, “Birnie Bus has remained ready, willing, and able to provide transportation services throughout the pandemic despite the district’s refusal to uphold its contractual obligations including its decision not to pay Birnie Bus and our drivers since March 2020,” the announcement said.
The company “presented a number of viable transportation proposals that would have allowed for a Nov. 2, 2020 opening.
The district chose to ignore both these proposals and its contractual obligations.”
The company “nevertheless remains fully committed to our mission to provide school bus transportation services to the children of the Utica City School District,” the announcement added. “We hope the district will reevaluate its position and honor both its contractual obligations and its promise to begin in-person hybrid instruction at...elementary schools on Nov. 2...as scheduled.”
The Birnie company also contracts with the Rome school student for student busing, among various other school districts it serves from several locations. The Rome district this week began a hybrid educational format combining in-school and remote instruction.