Tonight's monthly meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy is being held at The Michael J. Petrides School on Staten Island, and even though school busing isn't on the agenda, there's no doubt the members will hear an earful about the subject.
Local parent leaders are still fuming over the cancellation of yellow school buses for seventh and eighth grade students last year. Buses for students beyond certain distances are legally required only until sixth grade (except for students with disabilities). But students in Staten Island and a few other neighborhoods (namely Breezy Point, Queens) had successfully won "variances" for many years, on the grounds that they had little access to mass transit.
When the Department of Education cut those buses last year, 4,600 students were affected, about 3,000 of whom attend 47 schools on Staten Island. There was a legal fight to restore the buses, but the city prevailed.
Sam Pirozzolo, president of Community Education Council 31, which serves all of Staten Island, says parents have not given up, however. He says the borough is unique because it is so suburban.
"We have sections on Staten Island where there are no sidewalks for quite a long distance," he said, adding that there are no subways and many students have to cross busy intersections.
Staten Island politicians are pushing for state legislation called Aniya's Law, named for a 13-year-old girl who was killed in June while crossing an intersection to catch a city bus after school. If approved it would restore bus service for middle school students.
Chancellor Dennis Walcott says he respects the parents, but that the city just can't afford to restore the buses. Eliminating the service saved the city $3 million, he said. But if he restored it, he said, he would have to provide busing for all seventh and eighth graders to be fair to everyone.
"We've projected that if it was the entire city then it would be anywhere up to potentially $50 million," he said. "And we have a number of challenges we're going to be facing in the budget."
Mr. Pirozzolo, who is the father of a sixth grader, says he does not buy that. He believes most of the city is served well enough by mass transit that the number of seventh and eighth graders requesting buses shouldn't rise much beyond the 4,600 who were originally served before the city cut the routes in 2010.
Meanwhile, Staten Island Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis has written a letter to the chancellor asking him to give any empty seats on yellow buses to seventh and eighth graders who have to cross four or more lanes of traffic to get to school or the nearest Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus.