Parents of private-school children in Seaford and Wantagh are fuming because school districts are not providing the same level of service as in previous years. They are especially concerned about the late buses that used to bring their children home from after-school activities.
“I find it frustrating,” Seaford parent Kathy McCosker wrote in a social media message. “My daughter joined a club for now, but she hopes to make the basketball team in the winter. That would mean I have to pick her up every day after practice” from Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset.
The problem isn’t a new one. “When I went to Sacred Heart [Academy, in Hempstead], there were not enough kids from my district for a late bus,” Lisa Pantina wrote. “I had to walk to the Hempstead bus terminal and take a public bus to the Freeport train station to get home — at 13 years old. I didn’t want that for my kids.”
State education law requires public schools to provide transportation for “nonpublic school students” — mainly students in parochial and charter schools — on the same basis as their own students. The law allows for different parameters, de-pending on whether the districts are “city” or “noncity.” City districts are those in metropolitan areas with populations of more than 125,000. Only New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers meet those criteria.
According to the law, districts are required to provide transportation or reimbursement for any student living within 15 miles of the nearest public school. Students in grades K through 8 must provide their own transportation if they live less than two miles from school; students in grades 9 through 12 must do so if they live less than three miles from school. The statute does not guarantee door-to-door service for those who are bused, but it does provide for students to be bused from central pick-up points.
Seaford Union Free School District Superintendent Dr. Adele Pecora said her district buses students to 19 nonpublic schools. According to Wantagh Superintendent John McNamara, his district buses to 46 private and BOCES schools.
“We provide two late buses to the middle schools and two late buses to the high schools,” Pecora wrote in response to the Herald’s questions. This tallies with the transportation service in Wantagh. And “a late bus is provided for students involved in after-school activities at private schools, provided the number of students requesting transportation is six or more,” McNamara wrote in an email.
The two districts spend between a quarter and a third of their transportation budgets on busing private and BOCES students. “The projected budget for the 2018-19 transportation costs for the district is $3.35 million” out of a budget of roughly $77.53 million, McNamara wrote. Of that, “a projected $956,000 is for transportation to private and BOCES schools.”
In Seaford, “we anticipate spending approximately $2.3 million on transportation in 2018-19” from the district’s budget of approximately $66.44 million, Pecora wrote. “Approximately $557,000 is to
be spent on nonpublic school transpor-
Pantina wrote that her own experience colored her choice when deciding on a place to live. “I was aware of the busing situation prior to choosing a school,” she noted.
Patricia Reilly DeLuca said that her daughter took a late bus from Our Lady of Mercy until this year, when their pick-up point failed to meet the minimum number of riders. “We are one short this year,” she said. At the latest meeting of the Seaford Board of Education on Oct. 2, though, “the cost of adding a [late] bus did not seem prohibitive.” DeLuca wrote that she was furious that one of the services public schools provided had been taken away.
In addition to transportation, state education law requires public school districts to provide nonpublic schools with textbooks, special-education services and health care.
Some parents also complained about doubling up with students from other towns. “For the first time, we are on a bus with Wantagh students, which doubles our time and increases the number on the bus to nine,” wrote DeLuca, who lives in the Seaford district.
McCosker agreed, writing that the addition of Wantagh students “lengthens our trip by quite a bit.”
One of the factors complicating late buses is varying dismissal times. The private-school day is typically at least a half-hour longer than in public schools. State education commissioners have held that requests for late buses are unreasonable in cases of such time differentials.
Disabled students are the exception to most rules. According to state law, all public school districts must provide suitable transportation for these students “as stipulated in the student’s individualized education plan.”
Parents may appeal local district transportation decisions directly to the State Education Department.