On May 21, voters in Bridgehampton will decide whether or not to extend the district’s transportation policy to provide busing to students attending schools within 25 miles of the school district. In essence, this would allow transportation of students to Bishop McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead, the only Catholic high school on the East End.
Under state law, school districts are only required to provide transportation to non-public schools within 15 miles of the district. In order to change that policy, residents — not administration or school boards — must weigh in via a referendum vote on the issue.
And in 2010, the voters of the Sag Harbor School District did just that.
In 1976, Sag Harbor residents authorized an expansion of the school’s transportation policy, allowing students to be transported within a 30-mile radius of the Pierson campus. In 2010, with no students then attending non-public schools between 15 and 30 miles of the district, then superintendent Dr. John Gratto suggested the board roll back its transportation policy to the state mandated 15-mile limit. This was done in an effort to save taxpayers as much as $25,000 annually should students once again begin attending private schools within the 15 to 30 mile radius.
However, according to current school district administrator John O’Keefe, during the 2011-2012 school year Dr. Gratto agreed to provide students wanting to attend McGann-Mercy with transportation to the school on a bus the district was already sending west to Eastern Suffolk BOCES.
O’Keefe noted the decision did not cost district taxpayers any money as the BOCES bus is provided through the district’s own busing system and is not contracted through a private busing service, which can often charge per student.
Three students from the Sag Harbor School District have been using this bus to get to McGann-Mercy.
O’Keefe said this week that after referring the matter to school district attorney, Tom Volz, it appears as of next year the district will no longer provide this transportation option in order to conform with its existing policy.
If the school district decides to pursue providing busing to non-public schools beyond the 15-mile limitation, O’Keefe said it would have to be approved by district residents in a referendum vote.
“This is not set in stone yet,” said O’Keefe, noting Volz was still researching the case law on allowing students — at no cost to the district — to use the BOCES bus to attend a non-public school. “But we do not think we will be able to allow it for next year.”