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An after-school dilemma

CHSD again denies request for private-school late busing

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“How would you feel if you had a child who lost his mother and he had no way of getting home?” 50-year Valley Stream resident Karin Longo asked the Central High School District Board of Education. “I know that you’re very against getting a late bus, but what is the child supposed to do?”

Longo pleaded to board members on Aug. 27, asking them to provide late bus service for her 15-year-old grandson, who recently lost his mother to breast cancer in June. He is a sophomore at Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale, and although he lives in Malverne, his house falls within the Valley Stream Central High School District.

It was the latest in a series of requests from residents to the board for the district to provide late buses for children attending private schools. Last year, Malverne resident Lori Lang raised similar concerns about her children. Like Longo’s grandson, her home is within the CHSD, but unlike Valley Stream, the Malverne School District, just blocks away, provides late buses for private-school students.

After his mother died, Longo’s grandson was left without a parent to pick him up from after-school activities. His father is unable to do so due to work commitments, Longo said, and she and her husband can’t do it either due to health problems. She requested that the board either provide late bus service for private- school students living in the district or make an exception for her grandson, and provide him with a pass to take a Malverne school bus home.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Bill Heidenreich and board members expressed sympathy for Longo and her grandson’s situation, but noted that if they were to give him an exemption, they would have to extend it to all students in the district, and as they have said in the past, that would be cost-prohibitive.

“I empathize with Ms. Longo because I’m a parent, but our [2019-20] budget does not contain funding for late busing,” Heidenreich said. “If I could, I would provide every student with late busing, but our budget does not provide that.”

“The cost of [late busing] would be in the millions,” board Trustee James Lavery said. “There’s a hundred private schools . . . if we did it for one, we would have to do it for everyone.”

Heidenreich later issued a statement on the issue, saying that after reviewing the state’s aid package for the 2019-20 school year, the district opted to create a “status quo” budget with some additional funds dedicated to security improvements at the schools.

After the issue was raised last year, he said, he and the board reportedly estimated that late bus service for private-school children would initially cost roughly $200,000, but that year-to-year and week-to-week variations in the number of children using the service could increase costs to more than $1 million.

“Unfortunately, given our current state aid package from the state, I cannot recommend an increase in our budget of this much money for late busing,” the statement read.

In the Malverne School District, there are 257 elementary-school-age students attending private schools, and 48 in private junior and senior high schools, according to State Education Department records. In the Valley Stream CHSD, there are 315 elementary-school-age students attending private schools and 186 in private junior and senior high schools.

According to budget documents, the Malverne School District allocated $790,000 for busing for private-school students living in the district in its 2018-19 budget, although it is not clear how much of that is dedicated to late buses.

“I’ve been fighting with the district for two years,” Lang said in an interview. She has a son attending Regis High School in Manhattan, and a daughter at Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead, and had come before the CHSD board at least twice with her concerns over late busing.

After attending various school board meetings last year, Lang said, her goal was to persuade the CHSD board to have its transportation coordinator work with Malverne’s to share information about how the latter’s private-school late bus system works, so CHSD could develop one of its own.

According to Lang, Malverne’s agreement prevents private-school students from getting a late bus from a school if ridership falls below 15 students. If 30 days pass with fewer than 15 students riding the school’s late bus, the district can then cancel the bus at that school.

“They have our tax dollars, and a lot of kids go to private schools, so the Board of Education should have enough money to pay for a late bus for Valley Stream students,” Longo said in an interview. “I just wish that the Board of Education would consider doing something about this.”