Fewer miles mean big savings, but drivers take hit

KINDERHOOK – Ichabod Crane Central School District Interim Superintendent Lee Bordick says the district could save over $340,000 if it adopts a one-tier busing system.

Mr. Bordick reviewed the numbers for the one-tier system, also called a “one-bell” system, and a modified two-tier system at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday January 10. He and Scott Hunter, the district’s budget analyst and finance consultant, reviewed not only the numbers for the busing but the state ad and tax levy numbers they are estimating for the 2012-13 school year.

“We are going to be looking at another tough year,” said Board Vice President Regina Rose, who ran the meeting in the absence of board President Andrew Kramarchyk. The board plans to hold four more budget meetings before presenting a proposed spending plan on March 27 and adopting the budget April 3.

The board will look at class sizes, high school electives and non-mandated programs, sports, special education and BOCES/Questar III programs, and full or half day kindergarten at meetings January 24, February 14, February 28 and March 13. All meetings are at 7 p.m., but the meeting place will be announced on the website at www.ichabodcrane.org.

The topic Tuesday was cutting the number of bus runs. Mr. Bordick showed slides proposing a kindergarten-through-3rd grade and a 4th-through-12th grade busing program. The district closed two elementary schools last year, moving 3rd graders back to the Primary School and 4th and 5th graders to the Middle School. Buses currently pick up students in grades 6 through 12 and then pick up kindergarten through 5th graders in separate runs.

Reducing that approach so there are only two runs, one for the Primary School and another for Middle and High School students would save the district $164,580 in fuel and employee costs.

Going to a one-bell system, with the same district-wide start and dismissal times, would save the district $340,736 in employees and fuel. The bus drivers would not work enough hours under that system to qualify for health benefits, which would save the district money.

Mr. Bordick said that the large savings would be for the 2012-13 school year only. And as the district reduces it bus runs, it will also see a reduction in state aid for transportation.

The district has enough vehicles to handle a one-bell system, Mr. Bordick told the board, though it would be tight. “It would be complicated if one bus went out for service,” he said. The district does have a system for replacing buses over the years.

“You are looking at the destruction of the transportation department as we know it,” said Coleen Winslow, a bus driver and president of the union representing bus drivers in the district. If the district cuts benefits and hours for the drivers, “You will not have drivers after that,” she told the board during the public comment period.

Parents at the meeting asked about safety on the buses with different ages all together. One parent asked Mr. Bordick about outsourcing the busing to a private company. He said that was not off the table, but did not go into detail.

The district is currently involved in a merger study with the Schodack Central School System. Mr. Bordick said the merger study committee should have a final report for the board in late January and then it goes to the state for review. To merge, both boards must approve of the plan before bringing it to their communities for a vote.

Part of the savings derived from merging or from a more extensive sharing of services with Schodack, Mr. Bordick said, would be in transporting special education students. He said 39% of the districts’ transportation costs pay for transporting students to special programs. There will be no cut in that cost if they go to a one-bell or modified two-bell system. But if the district can send students closer to home, to a program at Schodack, which has the space to house the classrooms, taxpayers would see savings.

The district is also looking into what to do with the two elementary school buildings they closed last year. Mr. Bordick said having their own special education program in one of the schools would not be approved by the state, but school officials are looking at selling or leasing the buildings. He said they should be able to report on that by the next forum.

The next forum will be Tuesday, January 24 at 7 p.m. in the High School Auditorium.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

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