School Bus Strike Explodes — As Much as $750K in Damages from Fire

Friday, October 12, 2018


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Fire on Thursday night at First Student bus yard, PHOTO: Reynoldo Almonte

The bus yard that stores the Providence School buses owned by First Student burst into flames on Thursday night. Six buses were totally destroyed and three others were damaged.

Frank McMahon, spokesman for the bus company said that the buses cost approximately $80,000 or more. The total cost of the damage may reach $750,000. He said the buses are insured.

The bus fire takes place as the First Student and Teamsters Local 251 enter their third week in an embattled strike that has canceled all bus service for more than 9,000 Providence school children including those with special needs.

The bus yard was shut down by Providence Police and Providence Fire officials who declared the site a crime scene. The fire began sometime around 7:30 PM. There are security cameras on the site, but the buses that burned are adjacent to a fenced area that borders the railroad tracks — potentially outside of the capture of the security cameras.

Backdrop of Politics

Both Mayor Jorge Elorza and challenger independent Dianne “Dee Dee” Witman weighed in on the fire.

“Several buses were on fire and have been since extinguished, the matter is under investigation. The Mayor was on scene,” said Victor Morente, spokesman for the Mayor.

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Witman criticizes Elorza on his leadership

Witman took to Twitter, “While driving through Olneyville tonight, we passed many firefighters on their way to the First Student lot. Many buses have been burned. This dangerous fire is unacceptable under any circumstances.”

Two weeks ago Witman began a constant refrain of criticizing Elorza's lack of leadership on the bus strike. 

"How can a Mayor whose job it is to lead this city not want to take a position to resolve this issue?" said Witman.

"I do know 20,000 kids, and parents, when there's a strike have no contingency plan because this Mayor has failed to show leadership," she added.

Elorza's press office refused any comment on the bus driver's strike.

Witman went on to criticize Elorza's inability to make decisions, "The school teachers [labor unrest], the bus drivers -- the Fane Tower -- the only thing he seems to be adamant about is his selling the water supply. He's asking the people of Providence to come up with answers. He's a one trick pony. It's shocking -- that's he's staying neutral. Kids need to go to school. Parents need to go to work -- what are the teachers going to do?"

The Providence mayoral election is less than a month away and the pressure is mounting to resolve the strike.


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ACLU announcing legal action

Legal Action

This week saw the ACLU of Rhode Island, along with two other civil rights organizations on Wednesday taking three separate legal steps with the R.I. Department of Education (RIDE) on behalf of students with disabilities who are caught up in the ongoing Providence school bus strike. 

The complaints allege that the failure of the school district to honor its responsibility under the students’ Individual Education Plans (IEPs) to provide transportation to and from school violates federal and state laws protecting the students’ rights.

“Although the strike presents a challenge, it does not absolve the school district from meeting its obligations to students with disabilities. The District may not foist its obligation upon parents by requiring they find, and initially fund, alternate transportation. The law is clear on this issue," said ACLU attorney Christine Marinello. "With the strike now in its third week, the District must take proactive steps to meet its legal obligations – in Jeremy’s case and those of other students whose rights are being similarly violated.” 

Also on Wednesday, the Providence School Committee moved forward to issue a request for proposals in order to potentially contract with a new vendor.

Presently, the existing contract with First Student has expired and the extension has yet to receive all necessary approvals. Over the past three years -- 2015 to 2017, First Student has been paid in excess of $30 million.

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GoLocal photo by Richard McCaffrey of picketing at the bus yard by Teamsters Local 251


Related Slideshow: School Bus Strike in Providence - September 2018


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