SAN FRANCISCO— Starting on August 31, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) will lay off many of its school bus drivers due to the lack of service needed with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing schools to start the new academic year online.
While other school districts are still paying their school bus drivers despite suffering budget cuts, SFUSD has decided against continuing to fund school bus drivers.
“As SFUSD continues to face budget shortfalls due to chronic underfunding, growing expenditures and reduced revenues, SFUSD cannot afford to continue paying for non-service. We must prioritize our students, families and staff,” SFUSD spokesperson Laura Dudnick said in a statement.
SFUSD contracts its bus services with the national transportation company First Student, which it continued to pay through July 30. Dudnick said that the district gives $30 million annually to First Student to provide buses for around 3,500 San Francisco Unified students. During the COVID-19 pandemic, SFUSD has continued to pay the bus company, giving them $6.4 million, despite no student services needed. Yet, its recent stoppage of payment forced First Student to lay off these bus drivers, according to First Student spokesperson Jen Biddinger.
According to Joe Vazquez of KPIX, Jader Castano, an SFUSD bus driver and union leader said, “To be told that you’re going to lose your healthcare and you’re going to be unemployed in the middle of a pandemic. I just think it’s immoral. The people that you entrust with transporting your children — you’re going to throw that driver under the bus!” He also said that someone from First Student told the union that the laid off workers’ health benefits will be extended until the end of September.
SMART Local 1714 union leaders are planning a rally in front of San Francisco City Hall at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday to spotlight the drivers, dispatchers, and other people who got laid off.