Changes in the way dozens of private-school students get to school could be looming next year if the Valley Stream Central High School District’s plan to provide them with MetroCards instead of yellow buses is approved.
Needing to cut about $2.65 million from its budget to meet the state property-tax cap, district administrators have suggested a change in transportation for students attending Chaminade High School in Mineola, Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead and the Crescent School in Hempstead. Providing those students with MetroCards for MTA transportation, instead of school buses, is expected to save about $120,000.
However, parents of private-school students are concerned that this could compromise their children’s safety, and they plan to fight the change. Their biggest fear is that their children will have long waits at bus stops on dangerous roads.
More than 70 people gathered in the Holy Name of Mary School cafeteria on Feb. 27 to chart a course of action — which will include petitions, letter-writing and phone campaigns and speaking out at the district’s upcoming Board of Education meeting.
Many of the parents who attended last week’s meeting have children who would be affected by the change. Others were parents of students who have already graduated from high school or attend unaffected parochial schools, but were there to show their support.
Holy Name Principal Richard McMahon said that high school district officials informed him that any decision on transportation is not final. However, the proposal still worries him. “My concern is that this could be just a slow chipping away of the services that we receive from public schools,” he said.
Under New York state education law, public school districts are required to provide resident students with transportation to private schools within 15 miles. The method of transport, however, is not specified.
Last year, the high school district eliminated buses to St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens and the Lawrence Woodmere Academy. Many parents didn’t find out about the change until late August, and complained to the Board of Education in September.
High School District Superintendent Dr. Bill Heidenreich said he learned from that experience, and wanted to let parents know early that the transportation options for their children could change next year. “We’re being proactively transparent by saying this is a possibility,” he said. “No decision is really made until July.”
The deadline for transportation requests is April 1, and after that there will be a request for bids, Heidenreich explained. Then, he said, officials will choose the most economical and efficient method. With some changes to bus routes and schedules offered by Veolia Transportation, which manages the Nassau InterCounty Express bus system, Heidenreich said, there are potential savings in the use of public buses.
Mary Rose Bosko, one of the organizers of last week’s meeting and a parent of two children who attend parochial schools, urged parents to write personal, heartfelt letters to Board of Education trustees, and to focus on safety.
Bosko also asked parents to call the superintendent’s office this Thursday, asking that the transportation changes be reconsidered. “If we all call on the same day,” she said, “we’re going to get his attention.”
Sharon Daly, whose daughter graduated from parochial school, put together a petition. Parents were asked to gather signatures after Masses on March 3 at the three local Catholic churches.
Daly also expressed her concerns about safety, noting that Sacred Heart Academy is on Hempstead Turnpike, recently cited as one of the most dangerous roads in the region. Having students wait for a bus along the road, or potentially having to cross it to catch a bus, worries her greatly, she said.
McMahon cautioned parents about adopting an “us against them” mentality, noting that the high school district is also considering cuts that would affect its own students. More than a dozen teachers could lose their jobs, and extracurricular activities and three sports teams may be on the chopping block.
Heidenreich told the Herald that the proposed cuts are in many areas. He also said that the changes to transportation would not be a cut, just a change in service. “There are reductions across the board,” he said. “This is not a reduction. This is just a change to the status quo. Everyone’s getting what they’re entitled to.”
Steve Miller, whose daughter attends Sacred Heart, said that parents should bring their children — in their uniforms — to the next board meeting to put a face — many faces — on the issue. “It’s a safety issue,” he said. “Who knows who is getting on that bus with your daughter, your son?”
The school board’s next public meeting is scheduled for March 12, at 8 p.m., in the Memorial Junior High School cafeteria.