CCTA strike leaves some students without a ride to school - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

CCTA strike leaves some students without a ride to school

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The brakes are on for bus transportation in the Queen City as CCTA workers hit the picket line. The two sides are divided over split shifts, working conditions and pay.

The strike is taking a toll on some students in the city. CCTA says the strike is affecting more than 9,000 people around Chittenden county, including about 2,500 Burlington school students. Some who say they aren't sure how they will find a ride to school.

"I take it every day. Every morning, afternoon -- to and from school. And usually to basketball practice and workouts," said Burlington High School sophomore Asmin Mostarlic.

Mostarlic is one of several thousand students who rely on CCTA bus services. But that ride to school never showed up Monday when about 70 Chittenden County Transportation Authority bus drivers walked off the job and onto the picket line.

"We're demanding respect and dignity. The harassment and predatory management, the ways of management as far as how they treat us while we're on the road, in negotiations, committee meetings, that kind of thing," said CCTA bus driver Rob Slingerland.

"What is happening at the bargaining table and then the recent comments -- they don't jive at all. The amount of compensation requested by the union, particularly early on in these negotiations, was many times more than the rate and increase in cost of living has been," said Bill Watterson, CCTA general manager.

Bus drivers and CCTA management have been trying to settle their debate over a fair contract since last May. With all services suspended indefinitely, that means Burlington students have to find their own means to get to school. Superintendent Jeanne Collins says the board had been looking at backup options in case of a strike -- but it came with a hefty price tag.

"The board was really clear -- it was going to cost us $10,00 a week that we don't have to provide alternative transportation," said Collins.

So the school board decided against footing the bill for alternative transportation -- at least for now.

Collins says officials will be tracking how the strike is effecting students, and on Monday, 20 students were absent from school. Collins says the biggest impact was on students in the free and reduced lunch population.

"For many of our kids, our schools are where they come for food, where they come for heat, where they come for adult supervision, as well as where they come for academics. Having kids not able to access school, is very sad and of great concern," Collins said.

"I feel bad for them because they had no way to come here -- and it wasn't their fault. They depend on the bus to come here every day, and it just wasn't there for them today -- and who knows how long it isn't going to be there for," said BHS sophomore Mentor Hashani.

Until the strike is over students say they have more to stress about than just homework.

"After school I was outside, and everybody was just walking all over the place, probably concerned about how they are going to get home," said Kujtim Hashani, BHS freshman.

And while many students can rely on rides from family and friends -- walking in these chilly conditions is not a feasible option.

"I live -- a walk is like an hour. I've walked before to school with my friends, and it took about 45 minutes to an hour," said Mostarlic.

CCTA officials say at this time, no negotiation meetings are scheduled. The superintendent says as the board continues to monitor the situation it might re-consider alternative transportation.

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