WESTBOROUGH – On Wednesday, March 1, while local school bus drivers held an information picket outside, representatives from their employer, NRT Transportation, met with the School Committee inside the Forbes Municipal Building.
School Committee Chair Lisa Edinberg acknowledged the picket, which drivers and their supporters have said is over stalled contract negotiations between NRT and Teamsters Local 70. She made it clear that the drivers work for NRT, not for the schools, and Westborough Public Schools (WPS) can play no part in the negotiations.
“NRT is contracted by WPS to provide bus transportation services. While we are close partners, the drivers work for NRT, not WPS. As such, WPS has no role – and cannot interfere or intervene – in any contract negotiations between NRT and its employees,” said Edinberg in a statement. “Yet we do wish a positive outcome for our drivers.
“This comes at a time when we have concerns about whether the current level of service we are receiving is consistent with the requirements of our own contract with NRT,” said Edinberg. “To be clear, those concerns are not based in any way on the performance of Westborough drivers. The purpose of having NRT in attendance this evening is to address our concerns to NRT and to state our expectation that the level of service meet the level that is set out in our contract.”
‘We never get to know whether we’ve got a bus or not’
Westborough Public Schools is in the third year of a five-year contract with NRT.
The School Committee brought NRT to the meeting to discuss several issues, including a lack of drivers and buses running late.
NRT representatives Peter Delani and David Lathbury discussed transportation provided to special education students and athletes, and addressed the ongoing driver shortage.
Delani, the vice president of customer relations, presented the service record for transporting Westborough High School’s winter athletes. He said that out of 68 trips chartered, 67 were completed. The one cancellation came from subzero conditions on the morning of Feb. 4, when the bus wouldn’t start.
Superintendent Amber Bock replied that she wanted the service record for fall sports. She said there were instances where students were forced to wait for buses.
“Not getting there isn’t O.K.,” she said.
The committee’s student representative, Aratrika Ghosh, who is a member of the WHS swim team, also had concerns about the bus service.
“We never get to know whether we’ve got a bus or not,” she said.
Ghosh added that later start times were not an option for many student-athletes because they need to do their homework after practices or games.
As to the driver shortage, which is nationwide, Delani said the company has been aggressively recruiting. NRT recently hired English as a second language instructors for driver candidates whose first language is not English.
“It’s a challenging environment,” he said.
‘You overbid and over-contracted’
Bock then brought up the issue of NRT itself, which had been bought out by another company, Beacon Mobility.
“You have contracts you’re not able to fulfill,” she said. “We are not in charge of solving these issues, you are.”
“You overbid and over-contracted,” said Edinberg.
Both Bock and Edinberg demanded an improvement in communications between NRT and the schools. They said service declined shortly after one of NRT’s employees, who knew Westborough, was promoted to another position.
“It went downhill very, very fast,” said Edinberg. “We want this fixed.”
“We need better communications,” said Bock. “This is under your control.”
NRT promised weekly meetings with the schools.
Should service not improve, WPS may consider pulling out the contract and seek a new transportation vendor.
“WPS appreciates the professionalism of our bus and van drivers and the care taken to safely transport our students. In fact, we hear from drivers how much they love our students, and from parents and students how much they love their drivers,” said Edinberg.
Bus drivers stage informational picket over stalled contract