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State Gets School Buses Rolling In Huntington, But Officials Scrambling For Long-Term Fix To Driver Shortage

HUNTINGTON, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- School buses rolled out Thursday in Huntington, despite the district's bus provider saying it has to cut dozens of routes.

That forced Gov. Kathy Hochul to step in.

The superintendent told CBS2's Jennifer McLogan it wasn't complete smooth sailing on all routes Thursday morning, but the bumps and bruises were minor thanks to a temporary, 11th hour compromise.

It was 45 minutes late, but at least the bus arrived. However, Jenna Prada's 8-year-old collapsed in tears because it wasn't her driver she's come to love.

"She's heartbroken. I had to, like, scoop her up and put her on the bus crying. I ended up calling the secretary at school to check on her. I ended up crying myself," Prada said.

The district is scrambling for a long-term fix after being blindsided by its bus company of 62 years.

"I think it's unfortunate. I think it's a communications issue," Huntington parent Lisa Rigney told McLogan. "I think there should have been a warning out to parents or the school district that this was happening."

The Huntington Coach Corporation, which serves 4,400 public school children in the district, gave just 36 hours notice that it would start cutting dozens of routes beginning Thursday, and would pull out of its contract entirely on Oct. 8.

The superintendent late Thursday sent out a letter to the district that issues had been resolved and buses would continue to roll.

The governor and other lawmakers got involved.

"At the end of the day, if they continue to walk out, it is the obligation of all of us in elected office to work with the school district and figure out a way we can find buses and drivers for these students," said New York State Sen. James Gaughran.

Corey Muirhead is president of the New York Bus Contractors Association.

"We are coming up with creative solutions. Staggering bell times, working with athletics, addressing people on unemployment to come back," he said.

Options include a new bus company, new drivers, and getting the attorney general involved to help remove barriers allowing school bus drivers be quickly trained and certified.

Huntington Coach apologized, citing an unprecedented driver shortage and state COVID-19 mandates.

Threats of legal action might have twisted arms. The Huntington School Board scheduled an emergency meeting to consider suing Huntington Coach for suddenly pulling the plug on its three-year contract.

Parents say they are disappointed it even came to this.

"What if there's two working parents and then, all of a sudden, they don't have transportation either way," one man said.

Some parents have been pleading with drivers to get vaccinated.

"A lot of issues with the COVID vaccine," one person said.

"I don't think we should concede and make people unsafe," another person said.

"I wouldn't want my kids with people who are not vaccinated," another person said.

The superintendent said while he understands there is an industrywide driver shortage across America, but the company's breach of contract is illegal -- and a slap in the face.

"This is a national effort at this point. We work with a transportation consultant, and he is actively reaching beyond local, regional, even state territory to see if we can get some help," Superintendent of Schools for the Huntington School District James Polansky said.

Many parents who could drove their children to school Thursday.

"I feel bad that the kids can't get to school easily," one person said. "And for the parents who have to then making alternative plans."

The superintendent and union tell parents that despite resolution, delays are to be expected in the coming days.

The superintendent also said Thursday the driver shortage is an ongoing issue that will need to be addressed within the industry and by school districts across the country.

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