Students and Parents look for Alternates as CCTA Strike Looms

By Steph Machado

Published 03/07 2014 06:46PM

Updated 03/07 2014 07:25PM

BURLINGTON - Like many of her fellow students, Natalie Kenney takes the CCTA bus to and from Burlington High School. She lives five miles away--too far to walk.

"It would take an hour or more," she said. Monday, she may need to find another way to get to class.

"I'll have to find maybe a carpool, or maybe bike, I guess. But I usually have a lot of stuff with me so that's kind of a difficult route to take." She was carrying a large sketch pad when we met her at the bus stop outside the school.

Natalie is in the majority. Anywhere from 2,000 to 2,500 Burlington public school students take city buses to school every day; thats about 60%. The rest walk or get rides. Only special education students ride a traditional yellow bus, provided by the school.

"With us being an urban school district, we do depend upon public transportation just like most other cities," said Alan Matson, chair of the Burlington School Board. That public transportation might be unavailable come Monday; CCTA drivers are planning a strike if a contract is not negotiated with management this weekend. Matson says it would have cost $10,000 a week to hire Green Mountain buses as an alternative. The board has to decide whether to spend that money just two days after Burlington voters rejected the school budget for being too costly.

"You know, we just had the community say to us that we need to make sure we're being careful about what we're spending," Matson said. "And I think that was first and foremost."

Students won't be penalized if they can't make it to school.

"If it becomes clear that we're going to have absentee rates that are pretty high, we will revisit the decision. We'll come back and we would have to take on the cost," Matson said.

For now, the message from the school district is to help your neighbors and carpool. That's also the message from Mayor Miro Weinberger, who sent out a statement Thursday night urging people to make alternate plans, and also asking the union and CCTA to negotiate a deal.

Vermont law does not require schools to provide transportation, though they can do so if they wish. Burlington students get free CCTA bus passes.

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