|Proposed New York State Budget Could Hurt Transportation, Association Says|
|Written by Ryan Gray|
|Thursday, 17 February 2011 15:24|
The New York Association for Pupil Transportation recommended to the state legislature that it eliminate several “restrictive” and “unrealistic” provisions from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s newly proposed budget amid concerns that it includes school transportation cost-cutting measures that could backfire.
Peter Mannella, NYAPT’s executive director and the Region 1 director for the National Association for Pupil Transportation, testified before the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means Committee that school transportation elements in Gov. Cuomo’s fiscal year 2011-2012 budget proposal will not necessarily result in cost savings for the state and individual school districts based on new requirements for additional efficiencies.
“We are concerned that these proposals will not ultimately result in lower costs for the state and our schools. Moreover, we are concerned that they could adversely affect school transportation operations, efficiency and student safety,” Mannella said. “The transportation of 2.3 million of our children requires us to take cautious and well-prepared actions. We do not believe that these cost cutting proposals meet that test."
Mannella added that the real cost increases to school transportation are not based on inefficient operations and purchases of new buses and equipment, as the proposed budget asserts, but are based on costly state mandates and rising costs of petroleum-based products, including diesel fuel, tires, lubricants and other products. New York transports about 2.3 million students each day that equates to 828 million school bus rides each year. The state has 55,000 school buses, the largest fleet in the nation and one that represents more than 11 percent of all school buses in use across the country for home-to-school transportation.
School transportation costs an estimated $3.5 billion each year, and $1.65 billion of these costs are supported by provisions in the state budget. But to address a state budget deficit of at least $10 billion, the proposed budget would require school districts to demonstrate that transportation cost-efficiencies are implemented, despite numerous cost-cutting measures already having been implemented statewide over the last several years. NYAPT pointed to an estimated cost reduction of $28 million in the last year alone.
According to recent survey by NYAPT, 80 percent of members reported they are already utilizing computerized routing software, one of the recommendations made by the proposed budget. The survey also found that the state could save more than $203.5 million, or on average $290,000 per school district, if the school districts were relieved from meeting 15 mandates on school-transportation operations. Those mandates include eliminating seat belts on larger school buses, eliminating idling reporting paperwork, adding flexibility in schedules for delivering driver refresher courses, coordinating bell times among schools and special programs, standardizing school calendars at least within BOCES areas, and consulting with local transportation offices during the IEP process on all special needs transportation.
“While there is always room for progress and growth, it is clear that districts already have cost saving measures well under way,” said Mannella, adding that the governor’s proposal ignores this reality, with student safety potentially in harm’s way if implemented. “Creativity and innovation are watchwords in school transportation. We could not operate each day without being able to find ways to respond to needs and unforeseen circumstances.”
NYAPT also expressed concern with another proposal, under which districts that do not comply with certain efficiencies measures would lose portions of their transportation aid. NYAPT opposes the measure but stated that if such penalties are included, they must be based on realistic compliance measures. Some measures that were considered vague included “reasonable utilization ratio for school buses,” a phrase that could mean different things to different school districts. NYAPT questioned how the proposed provisions could be implemented and managed fairly or if at all.
NYAPT also expressed concern regarding restrictions in school bus replacement schedules but supports a provision that would continue a $400,000 annual appropriation for the state’s School Bus Driver Training program, which is required by Section 3650 of the Education Law.
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 February 2011 12:35|