A school bus company where a noose was found is ending its contract with St. Louis Public Schools

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A school bus company will terminate its contract with St. Louis Public Schools a year early, bringing an end to a relationship strained after a noose was found near the workstation of a Black mechanic and an ensuing driver walkout that snarled bus service for one of Missouri's largest school systems.

Missouri Central School Bus Co. notified Mayor Tishaura Jones and the Missouri Office of Workforce Development in a letter dated Tuesday that the end of the contract would mean the loss of 332 jobs.

Missouri Central's contract with the school district, which includes about 19,600 students, was supposed to run through the 2024-25 school year, but the company had an opt-out clause. Bus service will end effective June 30, after the end of the current school year.

Scott Allen, regional operations manager for Missouri Central, said in a statement that in December, the company asked the district for additional money “to address unprecedented industry inflation and a nationwide school bus driver shortage." A statement from the district says the company sought an extra $2 million.

“Unfortunately, despite good faith efforts by both sides, we were unable to negotiate mutually agreeable terms to continue the contract,” Allen said.

In February, mechanic Amin Mitchell said he found a noose at his workstation. He said he believed it was meant to send a racist message to intimidate him after an argument with a manager over Mitchell's concern that some bus brakes were inadequate.

“Today I had enough! I came into work this morning and found a NOOSE!,” Mitchell wrote on Facebook, posting video of a noose fashioned from a thin rope and lying on the floor.

In response, at least 100 drivers stopped working, some for a few days, leaving parents to scramble to get their kids to school. The drivers are members of the Laborers' International Union of North America. Their contract does not permit strikes, so drivers called in sick with “personal issues.”

Local NAACP leaders called for a hate crime investigation. While none has been announced, Missouri Central said at the time that it would bring in a third-party to investigate. Company spokesman Cordell Whitlock said in an email Tuesday that the company “is still waiting on a final report regarding the alleged noose incident.”

The school district said in a statement that Missouri Central has failed to meet goals for staffing and delivering students to school on time for three consecutive semesters.

Missouri Central officials also told the school district that the racism allegations “provided irreparable harm to their reputation and said they could no longer work with Saint Louis Public Schools,” the district statement says.

District leaders will immediately begin seeking a new vendor for busing services. The statement says the district hopes many Missouri Central drivers will be hired.

“We want them to continue to transport our students,” the district said.