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IMPORTANT: Citizens Advisory Council on School Transportation

NEW: Mandate Relief Requests now up for Public Comment

Advisory Council meets with senators on school busing

Majority Leader says Senate ‘will not change’ transportation mandate

ALBANY, N.Y.  – More than 30 members of state Sen. Greg Ball’s Citizens Advisory Council on Parochial Busing headed north to Albany on April 18 to engage key senators about preserving the current 15-mile busing radius for nonpublic students.

Led by Co-Chairs the Rev. Mark Vaillancourt, president and principal of Kennedy Catholic High School, and Yorktown Councilman Terrence Murphy, the Council held individual meetings with Sens. Betty Little and Jack Martins of the Mandate Relief Council, as well as Education Committee Chair Sen. John Flanagan.  But perhaps the most ringing endorsement came from Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who guaranteed that there would be no change to state Education Law Section 3635 and the current busing maximum of 15 miles.

“You’re not going to see the Senate support any changes to transportation law,” Skelos said.

The majority leader echoed the sentiments of Flanagan, who opined that he would be “shocked” if the mandate were taken away or reduced.  Both products of Catholic schools, Little and Martins were equally supportive, with the former noting that there are other roads to relief.

Little, whose district encompasses parts of six counties and some 53 public districts, but only one Catholic school, said she would rather see a consolidation of services such as joint school superintendents, mutual transportation directors and combined lunch programs.

“There is no big savings in this,” Little said of reducing the maximum busing distance.

Martins concurred, remarking that the impact of such a reduction could actually end up costing public districts, and therefore taxpayers, more money.  He said that public districts aren’t taking into account the number of additional students they would have to accept if they could no longer attend a parochial or private school due to a mileage reduction.  To get an idea, he suggested taking a district’s stated per pupil costs and multiplying that by the number of nonpublic students currently being bused by that district.  That student number would be 600 in his district alone.

“I don’t think they’re looking at the big picture,” Martins said of districts suggesting a measure that would reduce the busing mileage for nonpublic students.

For Vaillancourt and other area principals, that bigger picture is the very survival of their schools.  Kennedy Catholic in Somers currently draws students from 18 different districts.  Similarly, Good Counsel in White Plains buses students from 19 out of 34 districts.

“Any reduction of the current mandated busing mileages strikes at the very lifeblood of our schools,” Vaillancourt said in addressing the senators.  “We are asking your support to ensure that our taxpaying parents aren’t doubly burdened by either having to pay for the transportation to which they are presently entitled, or relinquishing their right to School Choice altogether.”

According to Sisters Laura Donovan and Carol Peterson, principal and former principal of the Academy of Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in White Plains, respectively, “Cooperation with our public schools has been mutually beneficial over the years; we wish to continue partnering with them. We also wish, however, to protect the existing right for our students to be bused. Our students’ parents are taxpaying citizens.”

In a written statement distributed at the meetings, the Archdiocese of New York said it stands firmly behind its schools and the Citizens Advisory Council in the fight to preserve existing nonpublic transportation limits for Catholic school students.

“Catholic schools like Kennedy Catholic High School in Somers serve students who reside in many districts,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Timothy McNiff wrote.  “The 188 elementary schools, eight special education schools and 50 high schools throughout the Archdiocese of New York rely on state mandated transportation to bring a quality, faith-based education to their students each day.  We oppose any reduction of the existing 15-mile limit.”

Murphy and 2003 Kennedy Catholic alumnus Peter Tripodi, an Ossining town councilman, believe the issue is a struggle for power.  Namely, more students mean more state aid for public school districts.  But Murphy cautioned that any potential increase in state aid would be nullified by the rise in operating costs due to the spike in enrollment.

“They’re throwing it under mandate relief,” Murphy said, “but it will cost the state money.”

The citizens of Ball’s Advisory Council on Parochial Busing came to Albany on April 18 to have their voices heard.  For as Little noted: “There’s no place in the world where a squeaky wheel makes more of an impact than in Albany.”

Catholic and private school parents are hoping the wheels on nonpublic student busing continues to go round and round for their children.  The Council plans to continue being the proverbial squeaky wheel through local letters to the editor and contact with its area legislators.

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