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Members of the city Panel for Educational Policy have a clear duty to vote down City Hall’s rancid deal to buy out the bus company Reliant Transportation at Monday evening’s meeting — and not just because it’s likely to wind up saddling the Department of Education with Reliant’s $142 million pension liability.
The whole thing makes no sense: Why buy a private bus company to provide the services that the city’s been contracting out for decades? The real reason seems to be that Reliant’s owner gave $100,000 to one of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s political schemes a few years back.
It’s a Rube Goldberg scheme: Via the city’s Economic Development Corporation, the Department of Education created the nonprofit NYC School Bus Umbrella Services, Inc., purely to take over Reliant and its 900 routes for children with special needs. Those routes account for 10 percent of the students provided daily school bus services.
City Hall says its $890 million, 5½-year contract with its own nonprofit, NYCBUS, reflects the same daily costs incurred by the other school bus operators. So the move doesn’t even save money — and is far more likely to wind up bleeding it, as hidden problems come to light.
Such as that pension issue. City officials insist the purchase agreement doesn’t leave taxpayers on the hook for Reliant’s hefty obligation — but the contract, as The Post’s Susan Edelman discovered, does protect the company from having to pay a “withdrawal liability” for any pension debts five years after it is sold.
And ATU Local 1181, the union representing Reliant’s 2,000 school bus drivers and attendants, says its members will refuse to work for the city’s new nonprofit bus company unless it guarantees the existing pension commitments. So de Blasio will be looking at a strike next month — and will inevitably fold. (He has a perfect record of appeasing unions, after all.)
The nearly $900 million purchase comes as the state has signaled its unwillingness to cover the pupil transportation costs when schools were closed and buses idled from March through June. The DOE is paying $225 million (mostly covering pension debts) to its contractors nonetheless.
Most PEP members serve at the pleasure of the mayor, but their clear duty is to vote down this horror anyway, and dare him to fire them. Anything less is a betrayal of the public interest they’re actually supposed to be looking out for.