Baffled Haverhill School Committee Learns Bus Drivers Could Pickup Trash, While Teachers Face Layoffs

NRT's John McCarthy, right, addresses the Haverhill School Committee along with his lawyer Anthony Metaxas on Aug. 28, 2019. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Update: Fiorentini this morning told WHAV he has no plans to lay off teachers, and any plan along those lines would have to be approved by the School Committee. However, when Marotta asked for clarification whether the schools could expect “level funding” or “level service,” Fiorentini responded “level funding.” Marotta said that would mean laying off 10% of teachers. Fiorentini agreed the School Committee must take the preliminary step of preparing layoff notices even if teachers are eventually called back.

“I think we’re going to have to send out layoff notices. We have to,” he said.

Haverhill’s school bus drivers could be picking up trash as early as this week and at least 10% of the city’s teachers could receive layoff notices by June 1.

The potential tradeoff had had both the School Committee and school administration protesting during a finance subcommittee meeting last week. Members said they were surprised to hear rumors that Mayor James J. Fiorentini was negotiating to keep NRT Bus drivers on the job. When the mayor confirmed the deal, school Superintendent Margaret Marotta was one who openly opposed the plan.

“Pay the bus drivers and layoff the teachers? Do you think I’ve got problems getting kids to school? I would much rather have no bus drivers and enough teachers,” she said.

Prior to Fiorentini joining the meeting remotely, School Committee member Scott W. Wood Jr. said he heard complaints from bus drivers’ families.

“The NRT bus drivers have been ordered to go pick up city trash and stuff like that,” Wood said.

Wood said he preferred to not pay bus drivers to do odd jobs and use the money to prop up next year’s school budget. Assistant Superintendent Michael Pfifferling further noted the state might not consider trash collection an appropriate education expense under minimum net school funding rules.

Committee Chairman Paul A. Magliocchetti said he understands the mayor does not want the added problem of recruiting scarce bus drivers. However, he added, the plan might backfire.

“If this is upsetting the school bus drivers, this is going to create more problems. We might lose. If we lose a handful of bus drivers, we’re in trouble,” he said.

Fiorentini said NRT’s John McCarthy has agreed to waive a cost of living increase to the city that is allowed during the final two years of existing bus contracts. The mayor said state Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley convinced him the city will have trouble hiring bus drivers.

School Committee member Gail M. Sullivan proposed an alternative that immediately won support from members present.

“Why sit around and wait for a crisis? There’s no reason why they can’t be training people who are unemployed to be bus drivers so we don’t have to feel like we’re up against it,” she told her colleagues.

Wood, who is also a member of the Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School Committee, notes Whittier Tech maintains its own commercial driver’s license training. He said he would ask Whittier Tech Superintendent Maureen Lynch for advice. Magliocchetti also suggested Haverhill tap Northern Essex Community College which has operated CDL programs.

The School Committee is expected to formally receive Fiorentini’s proposal this Thursday.

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