At Monday's Board of Education budget workshop, BOE member Peter Meyer cited busing as one of the areas not fully explored in the effort to trim the Hudson City School District's $41.6 million budget for 2011-2012. HCSD buses every child in the district at a cost of $2.2 million. The only exception apparently are the kids who live at Crosswinds and attend Montgomery C. Smith Intermediate School, which is literally right next door.
A possible way to decrease the transportation cost--as well as to reduce fuel consumption, lessen air pollution, and encourage fitness--would be to eliminate bus service for students living within a one-mile radius of their school. Red Hook Central School District and Chatham Central School District--both comprising, as HCSD does, urban, suburban, and rural areas--have such transportation policies. It seems an obvious thing for the HCSD to implement a similar policy, but think again.
At Monday's meeting, BOE Vice President Jeffrey Otty dismissed the idea of reducing bus service, pointing out that a budget workshop on the topic had generated little interest. He also expressed safety concerns, complaining that there were inadequate sidewalks, and claimed that it had been estimated that eliminating bus service for students living within 1.5 miles from school would only save $500,000.
Last October Kari Rieser from the Columbia County Health Consortium initiated a Walking School Bus pilot program at John L. Edwards Primary School. The idea is that children walk to school in groups, accompanied by one or more adults for supervision and protection. The goal of the program is to get kids walking and to encourage a healthy life style. Rieser reports that 25 to 35 JLE students participated and "loved it" but concedes that the number "should be way more than that."
The ironic thing is that, given HCSD's current policy, no matter how many children walk to school every day, it does nothing to reduce fuel consumption, air pollution, or expense to the taxpayers. As HCSD business manager, Dan Barrett, explained on Monday night, HCSD provides "a seat on the bus" for every student enrolled in the district, so even if students walk to school or are dropped off by parents, the taxpayers are paying to have a school bus pick them up and deliver them to and from school, which explains the buses seen driving around town with only a handful of kids abroad. Barrett defended the policy by saying that statewide school districts spend 10 percent of their budget on transportation, whereas HCSD spends only 5 percent.