School Board: Cut Yellow Buses for Many Private School Kids

19 Dec, 2013

By Polly Kreisman

school crossing sign


Many people are upset with this week’s proposal by the Mamaroneck Board of Ed to cut private buses in 2014-2015  for many students of taxpayers in the area that send their children to private school while paying taxes to support public education.


This would affect students in grades 6-12 at eight private and parochial schools.  These students will be offered public transportation vouchers instead of a school bus.  The affected schools are Archbishop Stepinac, French-American (Mamaroneck), Holy Child, Iona Prep, Resurrection Grammar, Rye Country Day, Thornton Donovan, Ursuline and Fordham Prep.


The Board considered five scenarios and says the one it proposed will save the District $143,775.40 per school year.


The vote was 4 members supporting Scenario 4 (Nancy Pierson, Ann LoBue, Roger Martin, Melany Gray); 2 members supporting Scenario 5 (Stan Futterman, Jim Needham); 1 member voting against all scenarios as proposed  (Robin Nichinsky).


Below is an excerpt of a letter by Svetlana Wasserman, circulated among those opposed to this decision.


Unfortunately parents of Mamaroneck students attending other private and parochial schools should feel little relief.  Board members stated … that they view this transportation cut as a “modest first step that would allow us to modify or expand next year.” They see this as round 1–testing the waters to see what they can get away with, and once they have established that they CAN put kids on public transportation, the rest is just a slippery slope. Board members have stated that they believe the law allows public transportation as long as the trip is no more than 2 hours, involves no more than two transfers (three public vehicles) and 2 miles (or 3 for grades 9-12) of walking, all each way. Moreover, they stated at the meeting that other districts are watching to see what will happen in Mamaroneck, and they expect others will follow suit. As you know, parents throughout the community, including those of us in the core working group, have challenged this interpretation of the law, challenged the purported cost savings, and challenged the viability of the proposed routes.  After considering all of this input, the Board still voted to make these cuts.


We think it is critical for parents at the affected schools to organize and challenge the Board’s decision.  We hope that parents who are not affected by this policy change for 2014-2015 will also continue to do everything they can to stop this policy from taking effect. If it does, it jeopardizes safe yellow school bus transportation for private and parochial school children living in Westchester and beyond.


The revised transportation policy will be presented to the Board for adoption at a future meeting.


What do you think?


 


 


 


 


 


 
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  • Nancy White

    What was the rationale for providing this service for private school students to begin with? Do we offer free yellow bus service to public school students?

    • Pro School Choice

      Yes the District does bus public school students. There is a law that specifies busing for all students. As a public school parent and huge supporter, I have been really grateful that some residents pay school taxes even if they don’t send their kids to the public schools. Yes, they could move but instead, they are supporting both school systems. Mamaroneck schools must be benefiting from these residents’ taxes if the $145,000 savings is for 100 children.

      • Nancy White

        I grew up here and you only got free busing if you were 2 miles from school as the crow flies – is that still the case? Because I see lots of cars with drop off and pick up at all the schools and I don’t recall ever seeing a school bus. Maybe the solution is to eliminate the free school bus for residents, since they aren’t using it. Just to clarify, the rationale for free busing to private school is they pay school/property tax but choose to send their kids to private school. What about all the people who pay school/property tax who don’t have children/don’t use the schools?

      • 4busing

        laws and moral responsibility aside, if you take away busing to private schools, just see what happens to the traffic on the post road and weaver street. If you don’t care about these kids, maybe you care about traffic and the environmental impact of eliminating busing to private schools.

      • HarrySTruman

        This decision is an example of pettiness and utter callousness on the part of the school district. The school district has not been able to control the cost of teacher benefits, which dwarfs any of the transportation savings one could imagine, let alone those being pursued, and is instead focusing on a vulnerable population. Since only a minority of the district’s residents is affected and the majority is willing to stand by absent direct, adverse impact on it, the minority that sends their kids to private schools is easy prey. Last year the school board entertained eliminating the late buses even though the contract with the transportation providers had already been signed and was binding, with the effect that the cost savings would have been limited to gas money used to run the late buses, i.e., 9k! Nonetheless, the school district seriously considered eliminating the late buses! They view parents who send their kids to private schools as “traitors” rather than those offering them “a good deal” – full taxes for only a small benefit. By the end of this 4-year contract, teachers will be paying 8 percent of their medical insurance costs – that’s after this percentage escalates over the term of the contract. What other professional gets this kind of a deal in this world? I am all for supporting teachers with salaries, respect and true partnership with parents, but perhaps it is the extravagant benefits we can no longer afford, not safe transportation for all of the district’s children as mandated by law. And frankly if the white elephant of teacher benefits is not addressed, much more will need to be sacrificed than transportation! At the end of the day, I have chosen not to get directly involved in this battle, because life is short and there are only so many projects a person can take on, but I am deeply disturbed by the board’s actions. Fairness has taken a back seat to practicality and self-interest.

  • Barb

    We sent our 3 children to private high school and utilized the bus when it was owned by MUFSD. We continued to pay our hefty school taxes. That was our choice. We moved here partly to be able to have the bus service if we needed it. It is important that the district continue to provide this option.

  • Frasier12

    The choice is yours to use a private school, nobody’s forcing you. We have terrific public schools here. Too bad about your school tax dollars, but seriously, people! Following that logic, we’re all contributing our tax money so your precious little someone can get a ride to that expensive private school.

    • Jill

      That’s awfully presumptions to say you’re supporting a private school parent’s desire to send “previous little someone” to an expensive private school. It is not my desire to send my “precious little someone” to an expensive school; I would rather she be at Hommocks. However, those of us who have had to deal with the special ed dept. at MUSD know that budget cuts have forced the school system to deny services to hundreds of kids that need them. The prevailing philosophy is to deny whenever possible and bank on a low percentage of parents suing for services rightfully due their child. We are one of those families. We don’t WANT to pay for an expensive private school; we have no choice. It’s either sue the district or pay for a school where our child can get the education and services she needs. The latter involves less anxiety, but a similar financial burden.

      So before you insult all private school parents with snarky comments, it would behoove you to understand what goes into that decision for these families and the sacrifices we have to make as a result.

  • Jonathan Sacks

    The school board did not go far enough. There is $1.2mm to transport non-special ed students to private school. This is the equivalent of 10 teachers. This year the public is going to have to vote to increase class sizes so we can go over and above the state law for private school children.

    The private school parents that argue that they pay taxes and should have this service is a fallacy. Empty nesters pay as well and have no children in the district, this is the nature of real estate taxes in Westchester. Keeping our school district strong and competitive is what keeps your property values up.

    Private School parents complain about the safety issue, but nobody is concerned that my 6 year old daughter would need to walk a mile to 1st grade with no sidewalks in the dark on Old White Plains Road. The district is not responsible for getting district children to school so they should not be responsible for non-district children. Parents are responsible for getting their children safely to school If you do not feel it is safe to put your child on the train then drive them, car pool them or hire someone to transport. This is what the parents of the other 5000+ students in our district do.

    Private school parents should hire a private bus. If tuition in the school they send their child to went up $700, they would pay it, unfortunately their tuition just went up.

    If you don’t want larger class sizes for your in district children write the board of ed and tell them they did not go far enough at: board@mamkschools.org
    .

    • PrivateSchoolStudent

      I’d just like to say that I’ve been going to private school for a full seven years and find this argument to be a little ridiculous. Private school children need a safe way to get to school. The fact of the matter is that my parents are paying the same tax dollars that you are without nearly as many of the benefits. They’re, in part, funding your child’s education. Plus mine. Plus my little sister’s. So that just leaves me a little incredulous. Why are you supporting that they take away one of the few benefits I get from my parents paying school taxes that enables me to get a ride so that I can get what they consider to be a better education (not knocking the public schools here- I know they’re really good)? I get that empty nesters also pay these taxes but they don’t have children to worry about.

      On top of that- I don’t really like your implication that all private school parents are wealthy enough to afford a private bus system. A lot of my friends have parents who are scraping together all the funds they have to send them to my school. Their parents BOTH work to give them the same privilege I’m getting and, therefore, cannot give them rides to school.

    • Jill

      If you don’t want larger class sizes for your in-district children, write the board of ed and urge them to keep the current busing system in place. You just wait and see a) the number of private school children who will return to public school because of a lack of transportation; and b) the overall increase in the school population over the years because virtually EVERY new family who moves to our district will have ALL their children in public school. Those relocating to this area who want private school will move to a district that safely buses them, not to Larchmont/Mam’k. The short-sightedness of this plan is remarkable.

  • Mom w/ public & private kids

    It is wonderful that our community families have school choice, a financial burden that they take on to meet the needs of their child. It may be for personal, religious, cultural or educational reasons that a family is willing to pay the highest taxes in the country AND a private school tuition. However their action relieves the school district of the cost of educating that child and
    often any mandated support services (OT, PT, speech, reading, etc) as well. Additionally, many of these families also have children in the public schools and work in many ways (voting, fund-raising and volunteering) to continue making our public system so great.

    What makes it possible for all families to have school choice is that New York State Education Law 3536 recognizes that there is a public interest in getting all children safely to their schools. NY school districts are mandated to provide transportation up to 15 miles for any child who lives more than 2 miles from their school in grades K-8 and three miles from their school in grades 9-12. Public, private and parochial Mamaroneck school children all currently benefit from this law.

    Mamaroneck School District will now provide the least protection for its children of all school districts in Westchester County, make us vulnerable to lawsuits and make our community less attractive to families that may want the option of school choice.

    • Barb

      Thank you for clarifying this. I did believe there was a state law regarding the transportation for private school students. If it is not provided by MUFSD, families can live in any school district, maybe one that still provides the transportation. I have supported the community schools and we made a choice not to use them at various times and for personal reasons. That said, we need to look carefully at the budget.

    • Jonathan Sacks

      The NYS DOE has concluded in many occasions that public transportation is adequate to meet the requirements of the law. Children already have been traveling by B-Line bus to Iona, New Rochelle transports all of their children by public transpiration, Connecticut parents put their children on Metro North to attend Rye Country day. There is no requirement to provide a Yellow Bus.

      Further, the marginal cost to have an additional child in the school system is minimal and it is less than the cost of the child to be outside of the system. The district still pays for nurse support, books, transportation and special services such as OT and PT for out of district children, so you are misinformed about this. Rye Neck made the move and has had 0 children return to district. Parents do not send their children to private school to get a free bus.

      This was a luxury that can no longer be afforded, just as cuts to programs like drivers-ed, sports programs and more were required.
      If parents want to reduce the pain involved here they would be facilitating a dialog that is constructive on a transition, not just demanding to continue an outdated practice that we no longer can afford.

      • long-time resident

        I wish to address a number of factual errors in the comments posted by Mr. Sacks.

        The statement that Mamaroneck’s provision of yellow school bus transportation to private and public school students is going “over and above the law” and is more generous than other districts is incorrect.

        If it transitions to public transportation, Mamaroneck would be an outlier compared to other Westchester districts. Of 25 districts surveyed, 17 provide transportation services that EXCEED the legal requirement, meaning that they waive or shorten the 2 mile (or 3 mile for grades 9-12) requirement for children to be eligible for school bus transport. There are only 4 other districts providing the same level of service CURRENTLY provided by Mamaroneck. And only one tiny district imposes the public transportation policy that Mamaroneck is proposing–Rye Neck. Yet even Rye Neck reinstated yellow school buses to a portion of its students when faced with the threat of litigation.

        New Rochelle, the example that Sacks cites, is a city and as such is not even required to provide school buses. Nevertheless, New Rochelle went beyond what was required and chose to provide school buses to its students in grades K-5. It is hard to see how Mr. Sacks can claim that Mamaroneck is going above and beyond the law when seen in comparison to other districts. Further, there is nothing in Education Law 3635 stating that public transportation is a permissible form of meeting district obligations.

        While Mr. Saks is correct to state that property values depend on strong and competitive schools, he fails to recognize that school choice is also a factor that is important to families choosing where to live. With other districts providing the more favorable transportation policies described above, Mamaroneck’s real estate values will be hobbled by its reputation as a district that does not support school choice.

        Finally, to say that safe transportation for non-public school students is “a luxury that can no longer be afforded” is an affront. Who is one parent to say that the safe transport of other family’s children is a luxury? These are working families, many relying on financial aid, with children attending both public and non-public schools. For them, transportation is not a luxury. It is vital.

      • Jonathan Sacks

        Just another comment that does not address the issue. The school is faced now with the prospect of cutting teachers and increasing class sizes. This is to the detriment of the 5000+ other students in order to spend $1.2mm to bus children out of district. I am sure your school board would love to here how you are going to close the gap to keep our schools competitive and vital, not just simply demand that they must maintain the status quo.
        As a person intimate with the school finances, there is very little opportunity in the discretionary portion of the budget for more cuts. Millions have been saved over the past 4 years through the efforts of the administration, CFAC and board. We have gotten to the point where the board must cut anywhere that the spending is not required.
        Become part of the solution or remain part of the problem.

      • Jill

        You say the board should cut anywhere the “spending is not required.” Busing IS required. It is the law. Public transportation is not mentioned in the law; school busing is. The reality is that Mamaroneck is likely to be hit with lawsuits for its actions and required to revert to the legally mandated system.

  • Colin Campbell

    It is inevitable that class issues will play a role in this discussion- take a look at the comments here already.

    There is no question that the availabilty of busing for private school students makes our community very desirable.

    It should also be remembered that private school families often pay the highest taxes ($50,000 – 200,000+) and have the lowest utilization of public services in the area (schools and otherwise).

    The bus has been a nice, and sometimes sole, bene for them and as far as I am concerned they have dxxx well paid for it.

    Before I cut busing I would take a fiscal knife to a lot of the nonsense spending that goes on at our public schools.

  • Cup of Joe

    150k in savings? Forcing working families to make the choice of sending their 6 year old on public transportation, with the possibility of having to make a transfer? Taking away private school transportation and keeping public school transportation ? Clearly the Board picked and easy target since they thought there would be little push back or support for the targeted families. Seems to me the private school families should enroll all their children in the public schools each May and inform the school system if they choose to attend every Sept 1. This would require them to plan for this increased enrollment and really study the economic impact.

  • Lynn Hillman

    As the parent of a recent MHS grad, a current MHS student, and a private school student I am compelled to join in on this conversation. I am alarmed at the volume of opinion masquerading as fact, and the idea “if my child can’t have it, neither can yours” is a reasonable basis for eliminating what is a legal and moral obligation to safe school transportation for my child.

    First, MUFSD does provide yellow school bus service to SOME in-district, non-special ed students, namely the ones living farther than 2 miles from the Hommocks. Chatsworth, Murray and Central students all live withing the STATE set 2-mile limit. (I’m not certain about Mamaroneck Ave so I’ll let a MAS parent speak to that issue.)

    Second, state law says that if a district buses their in-district students, it must provide reasonable and appropriate transportation to ALL students’ legal educational institution.

    Third, parents of private/parochial students have as much right to access the benefits, programs and systems available for their children as do parents of public school students. In many cases, these parents are one and the same. They are also PTA volunteers, class moms/dads, coaches and fundraisers. To say that their decision to send their child(ren) to private school excludes them from the system in which they otherwise participate is punitive, at best.

    For those people who are unaware of what the District is truly proposing, try out this exercise: go http://www.511ny.org/tripplanner; pick any local private school (Hackley, Windward, Holy Child, etc) plug in that address and your home address. If your child were a student at any of these schools, this is the route and means of transportation that the Board proposes is reasonable and appropriate for him/her. This is what they used to determine feasibility with the added constraints that the trip couldn’t be longer than 2 hours EACH WAY, any walking distance couldn’t exceed 2 miles, and the student could ride no more than 3 public vehicles. For many children, ages 6-13, their day would start out with a 6:30ish bus to the New Rochelle Transit Hub (located at the NR train station) to transfer to the bus that would deliver them within ~ 1/2 mile to their school. The return trip isn’t much different except that the transfer is made at the White Plains Transportation Hub, aka the White Plains train station. This transportation model assumes that A) buses run on time; B) that elementary and middle school children have the maturity to determine the right time and place to be in making their transfers; C) that these children know what to do if their bus is late or early (and they miss it); D) that they know how to respond when someone on the bus wonders why an unattended child is riding the bus or simply wants to chat; and E) that they can safely cross busy intersections (Mamaroneck Avenue and Rosedale, for instance), among a myriad of other safety concerns. The example of Metro North to Fordham or Rye Country DAy is hardly an apples-to-apples comparison of the entire issue which is, in my view, a far cry from either reasonable or appropriate transportation for my 11-year old.

    To Mr. Sacks, who is concerned that there is no corresponding outcry over the fact that his 6-yr old, if left to walk to school alone, would have to do so in the dark on un-sidewalk-ed streets…I am disheartened that his very real and appropriate concern for safety doesn’t extend to other children. (Perhaps he should consider moving, as another poster suggested was a reasonable solution for private-school parents, as a means of obtaining the relief that he seeks.) The sad reality is, however, that the lack of a yellow bus for my child will not make his daughter’s route to school safer. I propose that a much better solution to his concerns for his daughter’s safety would be to advocate FOR HER rather than to take away from others.

  • Colin Campbell

    @Phyllis – I’m a bit of a classicist (in the broadest sense of the term) when it comes to education. Anything that does not contribute directly to readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmatic, is “nonsense spending” in my book.

    My feeling is that much of the cost of education today is due to the fact that schools have evolved from focused places of learning to community centers.

    That was OK when we were enjoying our bubble economy but is unaffordable today.

  • xanthe

    Robin Nichinsky sent her daughter to private school and she was bused by the school district . Ironically the year after she graduated was when the district seemed to discover what a cost saving this was . I wonder why it was not a cost saving when her daugter was being bused.