Students returning for the start of the new school year Tuesday on St. Croix will not be arriving in school buses, according to the V.I. Department of Education.
Acting Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory said Friday that negotiations with Abramson Enterprises Inc., the company that provided bus transportation for the last six years, have stalled and that company officials have decided not to provide school bus service to St. Croix’s students during the upcoming 2013-14 school year.
Frett-Gregory said the department is up to date on its payments to Abramson; the decision, she added, came after the two sides could not come to a consensus on a few final issues.
The bus company’s previous five-year contract with the department expired in September of 2012 and, since then, services have been provided on a month-to-month basis.
Department officials recently proposed an interim two-year contract, and the schools thought the terms of the agreement were accepted. However, on Wednesday the company told the department it would no longer provide bus service to the students of St. Croix when the new school year opens unless the department agreed to AEI’s 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” is unfortunate,” Frett-Gregory said, adding that the new terms would force Education to pay approximately $317,964 upfront.
“We have already agreed to a 5 percent increase for the school year, but giving the company the upfront funding is something that the department can ill afford in this current economic environment,” Frett-Gregory said.
For over a year, the Education, along with a team of negotiators from the Department of Property and Procurement and Department of Justice, had negotiated with the bus company on a five-year agreement, but both sides have been unable to come to terms on a new pact, Frett-Gregory said.
“Subsequently we agreed on an interim two-year term; however, based on AEI’s correspondence of Wednesday, it appears that the company will not be honoring its agreement to provide services to our services for the new school year,” she said.
“The department sincerely apologizes to parents for this unexpected and unfortunate turn of events, and I personally want to offer my assurance that the government is working tirelessly to develop a solution that would allow our department to provide reliable transportation as soon as possible,” Frett-Gregory said.
The department attempted to engage AEI officials in further discussion Friday, according to the press release.
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 schooling.
She said that, until further notice, parents will have to provide transportation for their children to and from school, and are asked to help provide carpool assistance to those who may not have alternatives.
The department said it will provide updates to parents, guardians and students as regards to school bus transportation during the coming year.