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Schools Chancellor Calls Bus Drivers' Strike Irresponsible, Illegal

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Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that a possible strike by yellow school bus drivers and matrons this week would be "irresponsible," saying that the city cannot provide protections for some workers in its new bus contracts.

In a Sunday press conference held in Lower Manhattan, Walcott said "it is not now a matter of if, but a matter of when" the strike would affect yellow bus service for more than 152,000 students.

While the Amalgamated Transit Union gave no official confirmation of a strike happening by Sunday evening, some drivers and matrons told NY1 that a strike would happen Wednesday and that the union would make its announcement on Monday.

Walcott acknowledged those rumors and said he has laid out back-up plans for school transportation.

"This is a strike against our children," Walcott said, "It is illegal as far as what they're asking us to do and they are hurting our most vulnerable children and it is totally unacceptable."

The strike talk began after the city put its bus contracts out to bid for the first time in more than 33 years as part of a cost-saving measure.

"New York City pays $1.1 billion a year for busing -- an average of $6,900 per student, more than any other school district in the country," Walcott said.

The ATU wants job protections for some workers, but both Walcott and Bloomberg said they cannot fill that request, as the state Court of Appeals previously struck down such measures in bus contracts in 2011.

"The Employee Protection Provisions, the EPPs that the union is asking for us to include in the bid, was struck down by the highest court in New York State, the New York State Court of Appeals," the chancellor said.

Walcott said he wants the union to give parents at least 24 hours' warning before the start of the strike, so that families can figure out alternate ways to get to school.

Updates on any disruptions to school bus service will be provided on the Department of Education's website, schools.nyc.gov, by 7 a.m. every day.

The chancellor said that students who ride buses can get MetroCards from their schools' general office.

Parents of children in kindergarten through second grade and individualized education programs will also get MetroCards.

Families who live too far from public transportation would be reimbursed if they drive their children, at a rate of 55 cents a mile.

Children who show up late to school due to the strike will be excused for up to two hours, so that their attendance record is not negatively affected, according to Walcott.

After-school programs would continue, but all field trips would be canceled.

Department of Education officials would also post materials from every grade and core subject online for students who would not be able to attend classes.

Walcott said he also reached out to the New York City Police Department, Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Taxi Limousine Commission for support, should a strike happen.

The mayor, in his weekly radio address on 1010 WINS, also said a school bus strike is a strong possibility, and called the strike irresponsible.

"We hope that the drivers' union will do the the right thing and not strike at the expense of city school children and taxpayers," Bloomberg said. "But the city is obliged to get the best deal it possibly can and to put the monies where they do the most. And we legally can't provide exactly what the union's asking for."

On Sunday, the New York City School Bus Coalition, which represents bus companies, distributed a letter it claims is from the ATU, which outlines "picketing do's and don'ts" for striking members.

Among other things, the letter urges members to picket peacefully, stay on public property and not to threaten anyone or do anything that could provoke an arrest.

The bus companies' lawyer says if a strike does happen, the companies will take legal action against the union.

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