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Parents Decry Transportation Changes in Mamaroneck

MAMARONECK, N.Y. — Margaret Kaufer won't vote for a school budget that includes a proposed move to public transportation for certain private and parochial schools, she told the Mamaroneck school board and administrators at their budget review Saturday.

Not only that, Kaufer — a Larchmont resident with two of her five children attending the German School in White Plains — said she is willing to form a coalition of parents affected by this proposal to "break the budget" when it comes to a vote May 15.

"If there's anyone here as concerned as I am, I am happy to put that colaiton together, because a budget that includes this is not a budget that I will approve," said Kaufer, whose other three children attend public school in Mamaroneck.

If the public doesn't pass the budget, which the board reviewed line by line from 9 a.m. through the late afternoon, the tax levy would revert back to the 2011-2012 level, leaving the district unable to meet its obligations. Twenty teaching jobs would be eliminated.

At Saturday's meeting, Meryl Rubenstein, assistant superintendent of business operations, and the school board looked at making the shift to public transportation for three schools: Rye Country Day, School of the Holy Child and FASNY's upper school. This would save the district an estimated $82,848, she said.

The German School was one of three others also being considered, along with The Ursuline School and Iona Prep. At the March 6 school board meeting , Rubenstein and Superintendent Dr. Robert Shaps presented their proposal , which would offer those students, who currently use district busing, vouchers for either the Bee-Line Bus or Metro-North.

District busing for those six schools would cost $198,405.22, compared to $48,840 for public transportation, resulting in a projected savings of $149,565.22 (assuming every family requests a voucher if this recommendation were to go into effect).

"This isn't perfect," said Rina Beder, who has one child in private school and one at Hommocks. "But when I hear people threatening to vote against the budget because of private school busing, that means 20 more positions being eliminated for kids that might be my next-door neighbors; that means class sizes going up."

The School District has eliminated 56 positions since 2009, and will eliminate a net of seven this year (15.2 positions will be eliminated, while 8.2 positions will be added), according to the recommended budget. Beder said she doesn't want to see another 20 teachers added to that figure.

The board also reviewed the option of fully outsourcing its transportation services to Ardsley Bus Company, which is already contracted for 40 percent of the district's routes. If it did so, Rubenstein projected the district would save $844,225 in the 2012-2013 budget. This, she said, would decrease the total tax levy in the superintendent's recommended budget from 2.07 percent to 1.29 percent, and the tax rate from 3.43 percent to 2.65 percent.

After reviewing the proposed changes to transportation Saturday and listening to public comment, all board members said they wanted to pursue these options in order to lower the tax rate. The only question was whether to fully outsource this year, or do a partial outsource now and phase out the remaining bus fleet next year.

"The proposal without transportation is 3.43 percent, which translates to $525 for the average taxpayer," said Trustee Linnet Tse. "We're trying to figure out if this is tenable or not."

With the proposed changes to transportation, the cost for an average assessed home at $20,000 would drop from $525 to about $400, said Tse, who expressed concern that taxpayers wouldn't vote for a budget with a 3.43 percent tax hike.

"You're taking a big chance to not get a tax rate that you think the community would pass," said Trustee Nancy Pierson, contemplating a budget without these changes. "I would ask to have us lower our numbers."

While all board members tentatively gave their support for outsourcing, Anant Nambiar wasn't as comfortable supporting public transportation for private and parochial schools.

"The outsourcing option is almost 10 times the greater impact than this one," Nambiar said. "I feel like the burden being put on these children, especially grades six to eight, is too much."

Several board members, including Pierson, Ann LoBue and board President Robin Nichinsky, recently took some of the public routes proposed, and said they felt comfortable having children in grades six and up take them.

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