On Tuesday, a group of Mamaroneck parents whose children attend nonpublic schools filed a legal petition challenging the Mamaroneck School District's ability to change its transportation policy. Their petition is based on the District's recent adoption of Policy 8412, which authorizes the District to pay for public transit passes for some high school students who fall within certain specified criteria instead of providing them with yellow school buses.
"The petition filed contains numerous factual and legal inaccuracies, and we will be vigorously opposing it, " said Dr. Robert Shaps, Superintendent. "Our change in policy was made in consultation with our legal counsel and is based on numerous decisions by the Commissioner of Education over the past 20 years upholding a district's ability to use public transportation to meet its obligation under the law to transport students to school. Currently, a number of school districts in the state use public transit passes to transport some students, including neighboring Rye Neck and Pelham."
The Board and Dr. Shaps have made it clear that the change in policy was a budgetary decision, necessitated by the District's need to reduce expenses by more than $2 million this year alone to bring its budget under the tax levy cap. The cost of defending the petition, which seeks a legal determination and not monetary damages, will be a one-time expense, whereas the savings from the changed policy -- estimated to be approximately $98,000 for 2014-2015 -- will accrue every year. Although the State at one time funded most of the costs of student transportation, the District now pays 95%.
Chief among the petition’s inaccuracies is the claim that the revised policy discriminates against students attending nonpublic schools. The policy applies to all students in grades 9-12. Currently, the District does not provide yellow buses to any students attending Mamaroneck High School (other than students who receive transportation as a result of their disabilities or special needs).
Fewer than 70 of the 372 nonpublic school students the District expects to transport next year will be affected by the policy change, based upon the District’s preliminary analysis. Transportation for all elementary and middle school students will stay the same under the new policy. The Board of Education has no plans to change future transportation for those students.
Although the petition argues that the Board's action was arbitrary and capricious, the District's study of its transportation plan was done over a period of three years, after detailed student-by-student analysis, examination of multiple scenarios, modeling potential cost savings including the impact of students returning to District schools, and more than a half dozen meetings where transportation was discussed and/or public comments were heard. The District's March 13, 2014 Transportation Q&A and the Subcommittee's December 16, 2013 Transportation Subcommittee Report are available on the District website. Board President Nancy Pierson responded in writing to more than a hundred email inquiries and invited many who raised detailed questions to call her to discuss.
"The Board is sympathetic to the potential hardships described by the parents who filed the petition," said Board Vice President Ann LoBue. "But Mamaroneck High School students currently walk up to three miles to and from school, enduring the same poor weather and streets without sidewalks described by the petitioners, and carrying the same heavy backpacks and sports equipment. And like the petitioners, many families face the challenge of getting students to multiple public schools in timely fashion."