TH tries to get Hawthorne Valley kids to school on time

CRARYVILLE — Issues involving the transportation of students who live in the Taconic Hills School District but attend the private Hawthorne Valley School took up much of last week’s school board meeting, a session that attracted more than a few parents who send their children to the Waldorf School in Harlemville.

Caroline Geisler, the top administrator of Hawthorne Valley School, also attended the board meeting.

Hawthorne Valley School and two other schools rely on the Taconic Hills School District to bus their students to school every day. Throughout the state, public school districts bus private school students in their districts. But this year, because of a tight budget, Taconic Hills does not have extra funds that might make hiring more drivers to do an extra run — at $60,000 plus benefits per driver — an easy solution.

Instead kids are being dropped off at their schools by buses traveling on routine runs. The result is that some kids might have to ride for three hours.

“That’s too long. That’s why this is an expensive proposition,” said Taconic Hills Superintendent Mark Sposato.

“It’s not acceptable for them to arrive late,” said Hawthorne Valley parent Diane Moore. “College prep is first thing in the morning every day. It’s the most important part of the day,” she said. Students receive demerits when they arrive late at the school.

Superintendant Mark Sposato said that the busing problem “was our mistake,” adding, “We should have informed parents about potential problems earlier. I can see why people got annoyed. I asked our supervisor of transportation Richard Viebrock how we can fix this to make it work.”

Mr. Viebrock said that last year, “We had two buses for Hawthorne Valley. One went to Copake and Philmont. The other covered the HV [Hawthorne Valley] neighborhood. There is no way with the current buses and staff to get them there on time.”

Early drop-off was discussed as a compromise that might work, but if kids arrive too early at Hawthorne Valley, the school would have to lay out funds to provide supervision.

“It’s not lawful to consistently have kids arrive late, said parent Chris Hoppe of Philmont.

One parent complained that her six year old was leaving the family’s home, four miles from school, an hour before school and still the student arrived 10 minutes late.

The system worked before Taconic Hills adopted a one bell system said one parent. The district changed from a two bell to a one bell transportation system last year, so that school starts and ends for all students at the same time and there are no staggered bus runs. The change has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But because of a minimal increase in the tax levy, “We have no wiggle room,” said Dr. Sposato.

“It’s getting harder and harder to make it work.”

The busing problem was not resolved in August before the school year began because the district doesn’t know ahead of time exactly how many students will attend. State aid is equally hard to predict.

“We may be able to get there on time with the system that we have in place right now,” said Mr. Viebrock, who complained he had lost sleep over the problem. “It means changing the arrival time of busses within a few minutes. If I can do it before our sidewalks are full of Taconic Hills students that will make it work better. Fine tuning may be the answer.

“We’ll bring in our kids a little earlier,” he said. “We’re doing what we can to do this fairly.” But the district transportation chief described this approach as a work in progress. “We don’t have a hard and fast solution. But this seems the most logical solution right now.”

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