Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round"

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.             


  1. Thanks, Carole. Since Dan Barrett's average number includes huge metropolitan areas, the 10% is hardly a fair comparison--I'd like to know the number in our county... Secondly, the busing problem underlines a much more dastardly HCSD problem: communication. Since a change in the busing policy such as the one-mile limit, requires a vote of district residents, no one in charge wants to take it on. They are deathly afraid that the African-American community, which would be most affected, would feel singled out. My feeling is that that is a fear that says more about latent (and historical) racism than about reality. Kari, thank God, is showing us how to do it right.

  2. "Only" $500,000. Ah, yes -- that's chump change when your budget is $40 million. It couldn't possibly be put to other uses.


  3. witnessing parades of half empty buses criss crossing one another has always been a curiosity. at this week's BOE meeting i got the impression that there was no comprehension as to the real costs involved. it was also telling that this expensive services is contracted out "to the experts" who also develop the logistics. having a seat available for all students regardless of use is nonsense and a waste. the one mile limit and smarter use of buses makes tremendous sense.

    what if hudson combined school buses, COARC buses and columbia county buses into one system with smart schedules? potential real savings, better use of energy and probably a better system for those dependent upon public transportation.

  4. Yes to Rick, but how to overcome the lethargy caused by (what?) the fear of actually solving the problem. I think Kari is on to something, promoting the many positive reasons for NOT taking a bus. But I aso wish someone could step up to the plate and simply lead the charge to put Rick's good ideas into practice.