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Mamaroneck Bus Controversy: District FAQ

Mamaroneck Bus Controversy: District FAQ

Mamaroneck school officials plan to save money by providing private-school middle-and high-school students with passes for public transit instead of yellow bus rides to and from school.

Parents of private-school students in Mamaroneck are furious about the proposal, and formed the  Fairness for All Kids Coalition to fight the plan.

To help explain their stand, Mamaroneck school officials have created this FAQ. 

1. Why does the District provide transportation to students who attend non-public schools?

Education Law  § 3635 requires non-city school districts to provide transportation to students who live more than a certain distance from their schools (2 miles for students in grades K-8 and 3 miles for students in grades 9-12).  This applies to both students attending District public schools and students attending non-public schools that are within 15 miles of their homes. 

2. Why is the District exploring the use of public transportation for students now?

In this difficult budgeting time, we need to consider reducing costs wherever it is legally possible, in ways that least affect our core educational programs. Many different areas have been looked at for savings, including all transportation costs. Although they were once paid primarily by the State, the District now pays approximately 95% of these costs.

The District has already saved approximately $740,000 annually in transportation costs by outsourcing its transportation in 2012 rather than maintaining its own fleet.  (These savings were erroneously reported as $350,000 in the November 5 presentation, but have since been corrected.)  Outsourcing also saved approximately $2 million in bus replacement costs over 7 years.

3. Is the District required by law to provide yellow school buses? 

No.  The Commissioner of Education has upheld the use of public transportation by school districts to meet their obligations under the law, including as recently as March 2013. 

In addressing a challenge to Rye Neck's use of public transportation passes, the Commissioner recognized that, “a board of education has broad discretion to determine how transportation is to be provided,” as it balances "the overall efficiency and economy of transportation systems against the convenience of individual students."   Appeal of Casciano, Decision No. 16,459 (2013).  The Commissioner dismissed the student’s appeal on procedural grounds in the Casciano case, but addressed the merits anyway.  In doing so, the Commissioner cited with approval prior decisions upholding the use of public transportation, including those where students must transfer "from one public transit facility to another." 

4. As changes to the transportation policy were being considered, how did the Board respond to community concerns?

Public comment was welcomed and heard at five separate Board meetings, where the topic of transportation was discussed.  Additionally, the Board has received and responded to dozens of letters from community members.  In considering multiple options, the Board decided not to shift elementary students to public transportation services.  The Board also agreed to cap travel time from home to school or school to home at 90 minutes and limit transfers to one per trip. 

5. Do any District students currently use public transportation to get to school?

Yes.  Mamaroneck has been providing transportation passes to students attending Fordham Prep for several years.  These students ride Metro North and/or arrange their own transportation to and from school.

In addition, a number of students who attend District public schools but are not eligible for District transportation opt to purchase discounted Bee-Line bus passes through the District.

6. How did concerns about safety factor into the Board’s decision?

Safety is important to the Board.  As with the children who walk to our district schools each day, every family makes its own decisions about how their children will get to school.  (See Q&A number 8.) The Board heard community member concerns and agreed to continue busing for all elementary students, to cap travel time to and from school and to limit transfers to no more than one per trip.

7. Some other Westchester districts provide busing even for students who live less than 2 miles from their schools.  Why doesn't Mamaroneck do this? 

Without a voter referendum, a school district cannot legally provide transportation to students who live less than 2 miles from their schools for students in grades K-8 and or 3 miles for students in grades 9-12. 

Mamaroneck transports only a small fraction of students attending District public schools. The District transports certain students with special needs who require transportation, as well as one Mamaroneck Avenue School student and 114 Hommocks students  who live more than 2 miles from their schools.  The District also transports some pre-school students from Mamaroneck Avenue School to Central School and some Hommocks students who attend an afternoon Academic Intervention Service (AIS) program. In total the District transports less than 300 students out of the 5143 students enrolled in its public schools. 

Some other Westchester districts have reduced mileage thresholds pursuant to voter referendum, or cover a larger geographic area.  As a result, they transport a greater number of students to public schools and their cost per student is less.  Adding students who attend non-public schools onto yellow buses that are already transporting public school students is less costly in those districts than it is in Mamaroneck.  Because we transport relatively few students to District public schools, we have to add additional yellow buses to cover the non-public school routes.

8. Does the District expect its students to walk up to 2 miles if they are in grades K-8, or 3 miles if they are in high school?

Yes, if necessary.  The District does not provide any transportation to students in grades K-12 who live within the 2 or 3-mile cutoffs (except for certain students with special needs and a few students who attend the Hommocks AIS afternoon program).  Parents are responsible for deciding how their children will get to school, including whether they will walk unattended on streets without sidewalks, or cross intersections without crossing guards.  Students walk, either alone or accompanied, or else they bike, ride in a car or public bus, or carpool to and from school, in accordance with their parents' wishes.  Parents also bear the burden of complying with school guidelines as to whether students must be walked into a building and/or picked up by an adult.

9. How did the Transportation Subcommittee analyze public routes?

Over the summer, a transportation dispatcher from another school district reviewed existing schedules to determine whether a public transportation alternative existed for each student currently receiving yellow bus transportation from the District.  The consultant was paid $7500 to individually review and route over 400 students. 

The consultant determined that many students were not candidates for public transportation, either because of the remoteness of their homes or schools from transit stops, or because public transportation would take too long or require too many transfers. The subcommittee reviewed the consultant's preliminary data and requested cost analyses using two different scenarios.  (For more information about the two scenarios, see the November 5 PowerPoint.)    http://www.mamkschools.org/site_res_view_folder.aspx?id=cf701cfe-bf0d-4bba-beab-21f9fda1344a

Assistant Superintendent of Business Operations Meryl Rubinstein then examined the proposed public route for each student, minimizing transfers and travel time where possible.  In her analysis, she used bell times provided by the schools as well as information from parents. 

When it appeared that a public transportation option existed for a particular student, the analysis stopped.  The model did not attempt to determine best routes for each child, recognizing that the data (i.e., schedules, routes, residence addresses and schools) would be different for 2014-2015.  As with our students who attend District public schools, the particulars of how they will get to school (which bus or train stops they will use, whether they will walk alone, etc.) will be left to their families.  

10. How did the subcommittee calculate potential cost savings under the different scenarios?
First, we determined which current students would remain on yellow buses under each scenario and our District Dispatcher determined the bus routes that would be used. Then Asst. Superintendent Meryl Rubinstein calculated the cost of these routes under our current bus contract.

Next, we determined how many students would transition onto public transportation under these scenarios and added up the cost of the public transportation passes.

Lastly, we added up the costs for each scenario and deducted those amounts from our current transportation costs. 

These calculations necessarily will vary year to year.  The District uses different sized vehicles from our bus contractor, and many buses serve students who attend more than one school.  Thus, the determination of which size buses to use and the cost of the routes depends each year on how many students are being transported, where they live and which schools they attend.  These yearly variations make it difficult to determine potential savings with precision.  We do not even know who will request transportation by the District until after the April 1 deadline for parents to apply for out of district transportation. 

11. Why didn't the District explore other transportation models, including using bus companies who would charge by the student or by the hour, in doing this analysis?

The transportation contract can be re-bid each year to secure the best plan for that year's students.  For the last several years, the most cost-effective option for the District has been a contract where the District pays the same cost for buses whether they are used for 1 hour or 4 hours.  The subcommittee used the terms of its existing transportation contract when analyzing the hypothetical scenarios.  It is unclear what a different type of contract would cost the District and it would be hard to approximate it without re-bidding the contract.

12. How did the subcommittee factor in the increased cost of students potentially returning to District public schools if they no longer received yellow bus transportation to their non-public schools?

The subcommittee first assumed that students attending non-public schools who would continue to receive yellow bus transportation would not return to District public schools.  It also assumed that the biggest costs attributable to students who did return to District public schools would be for additional staff.  This work was done last fall, before the decision was made to continue to provide yellow buses to all elementary students.  As a result, elementary students were included in the analysis. 

To measure this potential impact, the subcommittee examined the grade and address of each elementary student who would have been provided public transportation under scenario 1, the most extreme scenario examined.  If all of those students returned to District public schools, we believe that Mamaroneck Avenue School would have one additional section in second grade.  Other possible sections at all four elementary schools would be considered under Board class size guidelines.  

The subcommittee also examined the grades of every secondary student who would be provided public transportation under scenario 1 and determined that no additional teachers would be required, although a small increase in some classes would occur. 

This is if every student transitioning to public passes returned to District public schools, an unlikely prospect.  When Rye Neck changed their transportation policy, none of their students came back from the non-public schools they were attending.  Also, some non-public schools offer shuttle buses and other accommodations to students whose home districts do not offer transportation, and these schools might offer similar accommodations to Mamaroneck students, making it easier for our students to attend their schools. 

13. Is it true that the District would incur significant costs for each returning student? 

No.  Although it has been stated that the District would incur more than $24,000 for each student who came back from a non-public school, that is not the case.  Taking the District's total annual budget and dividing it by the number of students enrolled does result in a "per pupil expenditure" of that magnitude. However, adding additional students does not necessarily require paying any more for staff, administrators, electricity or many other fixed costs.

14. What scenarios did the Transportation Subcommittee consider?

Based on community member concerns and Board input, the Transportation Subcommittee 
considered the following scenarios:

1.  Public transportation passes would be offered to students in grades K-12 who could use public transportation and reach their schools in 2 hours or less with no more than 2 transfers. 

2.  Public transportation passes would be offered to students in grades K-12 who could use public transportation and reach their schools in 90 minutes or less with no more than 1 transfer. 

3.  Public transportation passes would be offered to students in grades 6-12 who could use public transportation and reach their schools in 90 minutes or less with no more than 1 transfer.  Public transportation passes would also be offered to elementary students (grades K-5) who could use public transportation to reach their schools in 60 minutes or less without any transfers, provided that their schools were within 0.5 miles of the final transit stop.

4.  Public transportation passes would be offered to students in grades 6-12 who could use public transportation and reach their schools in 90 minutes or less with no more than 1 transfer.  Elementary students (grades K-5) would receive yellow bus transportation.

5.  Public transportation passes would be offered to students in grades 9-12 who could use public transportation and reach their schools in 90 minutes or less with no more than 1 transfer.  Students in grades K-8 would receive yellow bus transportation.

Each of these scenarios presumes that students who would be offered passes would not be required to walk more than the legal maximum (2 miles one way for students in grades K-8 and 3 miles for students in grades 9-12) and would arrive on time for school.  We also presume that their trips home would meet the same conditions specified for their trips to school.  Students who do not meet the conditions of a particular scenario would continue to be offered yellow bus transportation.

Ms. Rubinstein estimated the savings for each of these scenarios, using the model described.  http://www.boarddocs.com/ny/mufsd/Board.nsf/files/9EGJRP4E1071/$file/summary%20of%20savings.pdf

15. Which scenario did the Board adopt? 

At the December 17 Board meeting, the Board decided to implement a transportation policy based on scenario 4.  Elementary students will continue to receive yellow bus transportation, as will some secondary students who could not travel to their schools using public transportation without exceeding the time, walking distance or transfer limitations set forth above.  In addition, some secondary students may continue to receive yellow buses based on considerations of efficiency or economy.   We estimate that this change in policy would result in savings of approximately $140,000 if used to transport current students to their current schools under our existing bus contract.  The subcommittee recommended that the new policy be implemented for the 2014-2015 school year.

16. What are the next steps?

Based on the Board's decision on December 17, the policy committee prepared a new transportation policy  (Policy 8412, Student Transportation), which was presented at the Board meeting on March 4.  The policy committee has revised policy 8412 after receiving a number of suggestions and the revised transportation policy will be up for a second reading at the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, April 8, 2014. 

In addition, the District is working to prepare Regulations clarifying the procedures that will be used in measuring eligibility and determining mode of transportation, routes, stops, etc.  For example, the District is anticipating that there will be "empty seats" on certain yellow buses transporting elementary students to non-public schools, and the Regulations will articulate how and when those seats will be made available to secondary students traveling to the same schools as the elementary students being transported.

17. When will Hommocks busing be discussed?

Busing for Hommocks students who live more than two miles from school will be on the agenda for discussion at the April 8, 2014 Board of Education meeting.


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