Rockland County, NY - Private School Parents Frustrated As Ramapo Central School District Implements Busing Cutbacks
Monsey, NY - A Rockland County school district’s attempts to tighten its belt by limiting transportation to private school students who live within its boundaries has some parents crying foul, saying that the district is doing its part to create an unfavorable climate for Orthodox Jewish families.
A letter sent by the Ramapo Central School District, which borders the troubled East Ramapo School District, advised parents that starting in September 2016, private schools would be allotted just one pick up time and one drop off time. The new Ramapo Central policy would also discontinue busing for students on days that public schools are not in session, a cost saving measure implemented by East Ramapo several years ago.
Further compounding the problem is that Ramapo Central has decided to allocate buses based on numbers issued by the New York State Department of Education’s Basic Educational Data System (BEDS), according to Chani Jaffee, a Ramapo Central mother. Typically the district used BEDS numbers for transporting textbooks, not students, and schools with multiple divisions and separate boys’ and girls’ schools, could share the same BEDS number. Under the new policy, each of these schools would receive only one pick up and drop off location regardless of whether students are located on multiple campuses.
Jaffee said that one of her neighbors has eight year old twins, a boy and a girl, who will be attending local Chabad schools for the upcoming school year. The boys’ school, located on Widman Court in Spring Valley, and the girls’ school located five miles away in Airmont, share the same BEDS number. Both children will be bused to the Widman Court facility next year on different busses and at different times, under Ramapo Central’s new policy.
Another Ramapo Central mother who declined to be named shared a letter that she received on July 19th from the district. Her son, who will be turning five years old in the fall, will only have transportation available at 5 PM, while his classmates who live in East Ramapo will be bussed home at 3:15. The 5 PM dismissal time was chosen by the yeshiva, which was forced to decide between a too early dismissal time for the older grades or a too late dismissal time for the younger students.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that yeshivos encompass a wider number of grades than the public schools, explained Harry Grossman, a board member in the East Ramapo School District. Public schools in the area are broken down by grade, with students in kindergarten through third grade, fourth through sixth grade and seventh and eighth grades all attending different schools.
“If you look at the public schools, they don’t have K through 8 in a single building or school,” Grossman told VIN News. “Nobody would say that a kindergarten through third grade schedule should be the same as a seventh and eighth grade schedule.”
Ramapo Central currently has approximately 700 private school students attending more than six dozen yeshivos and close to 4,900 public school students. According to reports in The Journal News, the district’s middle school and high school offer two late buses in the afternoon for students who participate in after school activities, in addition to the regular busing provided at dismissal time.
“They have told us that busing for extracurricular activities is exempt,” noted Jaffee.
The New York State Department of Education Handbook on Services to Pupils Attending Nonpublic Schools specifically states that while districts are not required to provide late bus transportation for the purpose of convenience, school officials have the ability to establish late bus policies as they see fit provided that those policies “apply equally to nonpublic and public schools.”
The notion that the move would save Ramapo Central has yet to be proven, observed Mrs. Jaffee.
“They claim that this is for efficiency but they did no studies and have no projections,” said Mrs. Jaffee. “They did nothing to prove that they will save routes or money.”
Having schools with staggered dismissal times has given the district the ability to send the same buses, with the same drivers, back to schools to pick up students at different times. Creating a single dismissal time for all students of all ages could potentially create a situation where the district will need more buses and more drivers, which may actually raise the district’s transportation costs, explained Mrs. Jaffee.
“They have to show me the money in order to have a leg to stand on,” said Mrs. Jaffee. “There is currently no proof that this is an efficiency measure.”
The district has enacted numerous cost cutting measures in recent years, cutting back on social workers, teaching assistants, library and media specialists and others. Superintendent Stephen Walker said that the Ramapo Central administration has looked into other areas of rising costs, which include transportation. Walker said that Ramapo Central is projecting an eight percent increase in its transportation budget for the 2016-2017 calendar year, a number that comprises six percent of the district’s $134.5 million budget.
Walker noted that he could not provide any estimate of the actual savings that could be realized under the new transportation policy.
“There is no way to answer that particular question at this point because we do not know the number of non-public schools, the number of students or the number of buses and routes that will be required,” said Walker.
Jaffee plans to file an administrative appeal with the state’s Department of Education this week, asking for a stay or an injunction on the proposed changes. A group of parents in Ramapo Central have formed the group Parents Organized for Equal Treatment and are exploring possible legal action against the district.
“All children are entitled under state law to receive transportation according to their needs, not according to the school building and not an arbitrary time assignment and that need has to be met as effectively as possible,” said Mrs. Jaffee. “Children whose schools start and end at a different time than their bus are not being afforded the proper service and the district is not executing its responsibility to those children.”
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