Riverhead School Board Notes: Bus drivers wary of cost-cutting measures

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Lou Passantino, a bus driver in the district for two years and a resident of Wading River.

A group of district bus drivers warned Riverhead school board members that a combined bus run for Pulaski Street School and Riverhead Middle School planned for 2012-13 could cause safety problems for children on the buses.

District superintendent Nancy Carney has proposed combining the bus runs into one as a way to save money next year.

The district must cut this year’s budget by $3.2 million to stay under the state tax levy cap in the 2012-13 school year, officials have said.

Lou Passantino, a bus driver in the district for two years and a resident of Wading River, told the board at its meeting Wednesday night that there are other factors to consider before combining school runs — like the interaction of older students with younger children.

“I understand [putting four grades on one bus] is done elsewhere, but I happen to do Pulaski and the middle school,” he said, adding that it’s challenging to monitor students’ behavior and drive the bus at the same time.

“It’s an awesome responsibility, and I wouldn’t want you guys to be counting beans and not know that the issue is safety,” Mr. Passantino said.

He also said larger students would also make it difficult to assign seating on an already packed bus.

“How big the students are varies from big guys to little guys,” he said. “You’re talking about putting the middle school and Pulaski together…My runs right now are full.”

Other drivers were in attendance, but Mr. Passantino spoke, in part because only town residents can speak at meetings.

The decision to combine the runs comes as part of larger cuts designed to keep the district under the two percent tax levy cap. The cap, made law in New York State in 2011, limits the amount the district can collect from taxpayers at a two percent increase or less from year to year.

Ms. Carney, during a presentation to the board, said that in addition to combining the bus runs, the school would also be reducing the number of bus stops and eliminating routes to programs that have been cut down, such as the high school’s Star Academy, which will go from two sessions to one next year.

She said the district has not determined which stops will be eliminated, though she added the schools would work to make sure the new stops are “centralized and fair.”

Parents will receive notification by mail in August of where their child’s bus stop will be.

In other news, the school board voted to approve construction of two elevators at Riverhead Middle School, paid for by a capital reserve fund approved by voters in 2006.

The construction will cost about $1.1 million, according district officials, while electrical work and plumbing will cost roughly $100,000 each.

The elevators will be installed the same time as improvements to all school buildings through the district’s $78.3 million capital improvement bond approved by voters last October.

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