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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, June 29, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesEDUCATION, BUS COMPANY TO MEDIATE NOT LITIGATE

EDUCATION, BUS COMPANY TO MEDIATE NOT LITIGATE

The Senate Committee on Education Wednesday finally unearthed the reason why transportation for public school special needs students on St. Croix was discontinued more than a month ago by the V.I. Department of Education.
At the end of November, DOE officials announced that busing for special education students, which was being provided by Abramson Enterprises, would be discontinued. It was reported that Abramson, which also provides regular public school bus service on St. Croix, and the DOE were in litigation over back pay the government owed the company for busing the special-needs students.
On Wednesday, DOE attorney Tregenza Roach explained that funding for the $2.2 million Abramson busing contract between 1996 and September 2000 ran out in August.
"All funding for that contract has been spent," Roach said. "The maximum limit was reached."
Roach said funds ran out almost a year before the end of the contract for two reasons: Original mileage estimates, agreed upon by the DOE and Abramson, were too low and the DOE paid for the operation of buses when they were empty.
"Invoices paid under the terms of the old contract continued to pay for dead miles, which weren’t figured into the new contract," Roach said.
Another issue cleared up Wednesday was that federal funding was not being used on St. Croix for transporting special education students. DOE Commissioner Ruby Simmonds said "every single dollar … comes from the general fund."
The disagreement over contract payments sent the DOE and Abramson into litigation and education officials scrambling for an alternative way to get special education students to and from school.
In December the DOE announced that when school resumed in January Vitran would transport the special education students. That idea, however, spurred protests from parents of special education students and union officials.
Ralph Mandrew, president of the V.I. Workers Union, which represents Vitran drivers and the special education drivers who work for Abramson, told senators Wednesday that the company’s drivers are trained for the job, accompanied by special aides and its buses are equipped to handle wheelchairs.
He said Vitran offers none of those Americans with Disability Act-mandated positions and equipment.
"The government is staring a lawsuit right in the face," Mandrew said. "Anyone who operates a school bus must have a license."
Because of the lack of an alternative to Abramson, Sen. Anne Golden and Almando "Rocky" Liburd urged Simmonds and Rupert Abramson Jr. to settle their disagreement through mediation rather than litigation.
"We would be willing to sit down with the Department of Education if certain conditions can be met," Abramson said. "We have never received any notification from the department of what is going on."
Meanwhile, parents of all public school students, including those with special needs, blasted the DOE for the woeful conditions at the territory’s schools. Claudette Petersen, president of the St. Croix Central High School Parent Teacher Association, said deteriorating facilities and poor working conditions at the school have her on the verge of filing a lawsuit against the government.
"This is the 21st century," she told senators. "Look around at our schools. We’re living in the dark ages."

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