NYAPT Responds to Citizens Budget Commission Report
ALBANY, NY (12/18/2012)(readMedia)-- The New York Association for Pupil Transportation is concerned that the report of the Citizens Budget Commission of New York questions the value of school transportation to our students, families and schools and challenges the financial and management decisions made every day by transportation professionals and school administrators.
Transportation services are a mandated service and a mandated expense for school districts in New York State. School districts have a responsibility to provide safe and efficient transportation services for over 2.3 million children. This responsibility includes purchasing and maintaining school buses as well as employing and retaining qualified school bus drivers. It extends to carrying out safety programs as well as designing and deploying safe routing and scheduling systems.
There are no short-cuts to satisfying those responsibilities. Moreover, there are costs related to carrying out those school bus safety measures that cannot be ignored and must be taken seriously. New York's school transportation system has attained a safety record that is second to none in the nation. That safety record is not an accident; it is the result of our investments in safety for our children. Accordingly, NYAPT is concerned that the most recent series of budget cuts have affected our capacity to ensure the safety of the children who ride our yellow school buses.
While it may be necessary to review our state's transportation aid formula, it is inappropriate to suggest that lower aid levels would lead to more efficiency in school transportation. This assumes that school transportation managers put excessive school buses on the road simply because they will get state aid for that excess. Nothing is further from the truth. The truth is that school transportation services have been looked to first for reductions in costs so that more state and local funds could be dedicated to classroom costs. School transportation managers have been responsible for bringing down the year-to-year increases in transportation aid over the past four years. This has resulted in leaner operations and different levels of service in many districts.
Education policymakers have recently discussed the concepts of fiscal insolvency and educational insolvency. Similarly, NYAPT is fearful that we will soon reach a point of 'transportation safety insolvency.' This is reached when it becomes impossible to provide adequate training for bus drivers or to replace necessary equipment on school buses, or when schools are forced to require children to wait for school buses in higher-risk locations or to walk longer distances to their schools. Parents and schools and state leaders must be alert to this threshold and ensure that we do not cross it.
It is important to note that New York State requires school districts to provide more extensive transportation services thanother states. For instance, not all states mandate school transportation to the extent that New York does and most states do not provide transportation for non-public students (particularly to a distance of 15 miles) and not all states mandate the same equipment to be installed on their school buses.
Significantly, NYAPT has for several years proposed changes to state mandates that we believe would save the state and local school districts $200-250 million in costs. We have taken the time to identify those costs that drive the average cost per student higher. We understand that the only way to lower costs is to decrease service levels or reduce mandates. We have provided our mandate relief list to state legislators, the Board of Regents and the Governor's office. The list of those mandate relief recommendations is attached.
NYAPT urges the Citizens Budget Commission to examine and quantify the benefits of our mandate relief recommendations and to support our efforts to advocate for their adoption. We consider them to be a reasonable means toward reducing costs of school transportation in New York. We welcome a dialogue on the valid and necessary costs of school transportation and a discussion on mandate relief measures that will affect those costs. However, we are concerned that drastically modifying the aid formula or disqualifying some districts from receiving transportation aid could have the effect of increasing the potential safety risks for our students.
Attachment to Statement
COST CONTAINMENT AND MANDATE RELIEF MEASURES IN SCHOOL TRANSPORTATION
In an effort to reduce those operational and administrative mandates that affect the cost of school transportation, NYAPT has identified and will advocate for these areas of mandate relief and reforms:
? Eliminate the mandated installation of seat/lap belts on large school buses
? Require that regular school year special education placements and summer school special education placements be provided to the Transportation Department by July 1 and June 1, respectively
? Place a moratorium on mandated new equipment on school buses and initiate a review of current school bus equipment mandates by the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Transportation and the State Education Department
? Place a moratorium on mandated additional staffing and training requirements for school transportation operations. Such needs will annually be defined by the Council provided for under Section 3650 of the Education Law
? Amend Chapter 244 of the Laws of 2012 to provide that transportation of Universal Pre-Kindergarten students be restricted to transporting students who are at least 4 years of age
? Repeal the requirement for back-lit SCHOOL BUS signs on school buses in favor of the use of reflective materials as are used in nearly all other states
? Eliminate the requirement for second set of fingerprints in addition to those required in Vehicle and Traffic Law for a school bus driver who is to serve in another capacity
? Adopt standardized school year calendars within BOCES districts to allow for efficiencies in the delivery of school transportation services. This is not only beneficial for transportation costs but also to facilitate new learning technologies and services
? Require local school districts, non-public schools, charter schools, BOCES and other programs to collaborate through the BOCES on improved coordination of 'bell times'
? Require that the CSE coordinate with school transportation professionals in CSE discussions in cases involving the provision of transportation for students with special needs for equipment, additional staff or longer distance
? Reduce from 50 miles to 25 miles the mandatory distance for transporting special needs students, consistent with federal IDEA requirements
? Reduce the mandatory distance for non-public school transportation from 15 miles to 10 miles
? Repeal statutory requirements for Fire Suppression devices to be installed and retrofit on certain school buses
? Amend Education Law to require that, at the start of a new school year, it shall be presumed that a student will attend his/her district of residence unless otherwise directed by the District Homeless Services Coordinator