Joanne Buckley has been a Seekonk bus driver for more than 25 years. For the town resident, the position is more than just a job. She knows the routes cold. The school bus stays in her driveway in case an emergency driver is needed. She has shepherded generations of school-bound students.
"I've driven the parents of kids I drive now. Some of those include teachers," she said.
So when Seekonk School Committee members voted to accept a bid from Tremblay's Holding Company, Inc. to allow the private company to transport regular day students and special education students, she was less than pleased. Even though it's unknown if the company will offer hourly jobs to former drivers employed by the town, she doesn't think she would take the new gig.
"I'm going to have to retire now," she said, anticipating that the new company, if hired, would not pay for her health insurance.
According to Buckley, the new company also wouldn't be as quick to remedy problems, like bus break-downs, because the company isn't located in Seekonk.
"Things don't always work like they're supposed to," she said, noting bus drivers are often called into impromptu shifts.
And there's nothing like the personal touch of a seasoned driver, said Buckley.
"They're not going to know the routes," said Buckley, noting drivers act like caregivers. "You're kind of like a mother ... We drop off forgotten music instruments."
Driver Arnold Lee shares similar sentiments to Buckley. While he thinks school committee members are acting in the best interest of the town, he still laments the loss of a "family."
"You see the same kids in the morning," he said. "We all live here in a small town, you'll see each other grocery shopping on Route 6 somewhere, or at a Little League game or at a band concer t... We support the kids."
According to Barbara Hamel, the school department's finance director, the contract is being looked at by lawyers before it is officially accepted. The bus drivers' current contracts officially expire July 1, unless renewed by the school department.