Seaford voters will decide in May on a proposition that would expand bus service for the middle and high schools to all district students who live south of Sunrise Highway. Citing concerns about children walking across the roadway to get to class, more than 170 residents signed a petition supporting the potential changes to the school district’s transportation system.
Donna Jebaily, a mother of three who has lived in Seaford since 1991, started the petition at the beginning of the academic year and submitted it to the district last month; therefore, by law, a proposition must be placed on the May ballot. If it passes, the district would be required to offer busing to all students who live eight-tenths of a mile or more away from the middle or high school.
Elisa Pellati, the district’s assistant superintendent for business, said that buses are currently offered to students who live at least one mile from the middle school and 1½ miles from the high school. Therefore, Jebaily said, many students who live south of Sunrise but north of Merrick Road cannot take a bus.
Jebaily lives on Washington Avenue, exactly 1.3 miles from the high school. Her oldest child, James, takes a bus to the middle school. She said she has been aware of the challenges that students who live south of Sunrise face to get to both schools for years, because she works as a job coach at the high school.
Describing Sunrise as a major — and dangerous — thoroughfare, Jebaily said she has been horrified to read more news reports about car-and-pedestrian accidents on the road through the years. She said that drivers are sometimes extremely distracted because they talk or text on their cellphones.
Jebaily said that visibility is another reason that she and her neighbors are concerned about students who walk across Sunrise Highway to get to the high school, because late fall and winter mornings are dark. Parents who have long commutes to work don’t always have time to drive their children to school, she added.
“There are people on the train at 6 a.m. going to Manhattan and wondering if their kid is getting to school OK,” Jebaily said. “Sunrise has always been an issue, and it’s only gotten worse.”
Lynn Peraino, who also lives south of Sunrise, said that if her son has to walk to the high school next year, he’ll have to go out of his way to avoid crossing another high-traffic area: the entrance ramp to the Seaford-Oyster Bay Expressway. When she saw Jebaily collecting signatures for the petition outside Stop & Shop last fall, she immediately signed it and offered to help her gather support.
“We have a lot of young ones starting school on my block, and their parents are all very, very concerned,” Peraino said. “It’s not the mileage issue — it’s dangerous.”
The proposition, if passed, would cost about $148,000. At a Board of Education meeting on Feb. 16, Pellati said that that figure was significantly lower than the original estimate of $223,000 because she was able to conduct a more in-depth analysis of ridership in the fall.
The proposition, she said, was an important consideration for the board and administrators for the 2017-18 budget planning process. In order to stay below the state tax cap, the Seaford district can increase the property tax levy by no more than 2.02 percent. But if district officials plan the budget around that figure and the proposition passes, they would pierce the state tax cap. That would mean not only that the district would need the budget to pass by a supermajority — 60 percent of voters or more — but also that residents would not receive property tax rebate checks next winter.
To remain below the cap and to make sure that residents receive the state tax credit, Board of Education President Bruce Kahn said that officials would plan a budget with a 1.72 percent tax levy increase. That way, if the proposition passes, the district would still be below the 2.02 percent limit.
Superintendent Brian Conboy said that district officials would work to preserve all current academic and extracurricular offerings as they continue to draft the 2017-18 spending plan. “Our goal is to preserve our current program, remain under the tax cap and put together a spending plan that voters can confidently support when they vote in May,” he said.
Jebaily said she hoped residents would be relieved to learn that they would receive rebate checks next year because district officials don’t plan to pierce the tax cap. She commended Pellati, Conboy and the board for listening to her concerns and coming up with a financial solution that may help get the proposition passed.
In the coming months, Jebaily said, she would be reminding people on social media to vote at Manor and Harbor elementary schools on May 16. She said she hoped Seaford would come together as a community and, by voting in favor of the proposition, protect the children.
“We are not looking for buses because we don’t want our kids to walk,” she said. “We are looking for buses because there is a major highway between our kids and the schools. It puts a lot of stress on us to get our kids to school safely.”