Tag Archive | "McGann-Mercy"

Sag Harbor School District Likely to End McGann-Mercy Busing on BOCES Route

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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.

Voters agreed.

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.”

Voters to Weigh in on Transportation from Bridgehampton to McGann-Mercy

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By Amanda Wyatt

After nearly 10 months of discussion at school board meetings, the decision of whether or not to provide a bus for students from Bridgehampton School District attending Bishop McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead now rests in the hands of taxpayers.

Last spring, Bridgehampton residents Rachel Kelly, Mary Ellen Gazda and Tara Hagerman first approached the board of education (BOE) with a request to provide transportation for their children to Mercy.

However, the three mothers — all of whom currently send their children to Our Lady of the Hamptons, a K-8 school in Southampton — hit a roadblock when they learned the district can only transport students to private schools within a 15 mile radius. McGann-Mercy, the closest Catholic high school to the South Fork, is located six miles over that limit.

In late January, the mothers submitted a petition — which contained over 100 signatures — asking the board to put a proposition on their May budget ballot to extend the busing limit from 15 to 25 miles. Last Wednesday, the BOE approved this proposition, placing the decision in the hands of voters.

“It’s going to be a taxpayers’ decision. It’s really going to come down to a vote and the decision on what they feel more comfortable with,” said Nicki Hemby, school board president, in an interview on Friday.

If taxpayers vote in favor of the proposition, busing from Bridgehampton to Riverhead would begin during the 2013-2014 school year.

At this point, there are three students living in the district who would be bused to Mercy next fall, said Hemby. However, she noted this number could conceivably change in the coming months.

“Now with that being said, we will go with the most fiscally responsible and the safest option to get the kids bused in the event that the taxpayers decide that’s the way that they want to go,” Hemby said.

Robert Hauser, Bridgehampton’s business administrator, said at the last BOE meeting that the school had been researching the cost of providing busing to McGann-Mercy. Ultimately, the school could contract with McCoy Busing, which would cost $62,000 annually; Eastern Suffolk BOCES, which would cost $60,525; or Hometown Taxi, which would cost $14,475.

Both McCoy and Hometown Taxi will have to respond to request for proposals (RFPs), legal ads that are placed in local newspapers, in order to be considered. The RFP will likely go out later this month, and then the school can begin the process of evaluating the proposals.

At the same meeting, Kelly and Gazda were asked by the school board how they felt about sending their children to school in a taxi.

“We’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about them,” said Gazda. “Everybody that uses them raves about them.”

Kelly said that McGann-Mercy had been using taxis to shuttle students to the school from other districts for the past four years and “had never had a complaint.”

“A lot of school districts around the country are using taxi services for similar situations, where small groups of children are either going to special services or to parochial schools,” she said.

Kelly pointed out that taxis could charge per student, unlike bus companies, which charge per route regardless of the number of kids being transported.

“You have to get beyond the taxi stigma. It’s more like a shuttle,” added Gazda.

Still, Hemby said, student safety is her top priority.

“As far as Hometown is concerned, they definitely have requirements and stipulations that they have to meet in order to make that happen, so I just want to make sure that the kids get bused safely,” she said. “That’s my main concern.  I don’t want to put anyone in jeopardy over finances.”

In related news, Bridgehampton School will host a special community forum on the subject of creating the 2013-2014 budget on Wednesday, March 13 at 6 p.m. in the gymnasium.

Currently, the school is in the middle of the lengthy process of developing its budget for next school year. The purpose of the scheduled “community conversation” is to provide participants with an overview of next year’s budget, explain tax levy limits and provide the audience with an opportunity to collaborate on creating solutions to fiscal issues.

Parents Call for Private School Busing

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Heller_BH School Parents for Busing_7344

By Amanda Wyatt

Whether or not public school districts should provide busing to students attending private schools has now become a central issue of debate within the Bridgehampton School District.

Three Bridgehampton mothers are set to launch a new campaign in an effort to require the district to provide transportation for students attending McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead. The initiative comes after their request for busing was denied at the Bridgehampton School Board’s June 27 business meeting.

Currently, the district is bound by state law to provide busing for students who want to attend private schools anywhere within a 15-mile radius. Since McGann-Mercy, the closest Catholic secondary school, is six miles over the limit, the Bridgehampton District cannot legally transport students to the school, said board members at last Wednesday’s meeting. However, the three mothers are willing to go to any lengths in order to extend the limit to include McGann-Mercy.

“We’re prepared to do whatever we need to do,” declared Rachel Kelly, one of the three mothers hoping to expand busing options in Bridgehampton. “Our request has been denied, so whatever the next step would be, we’re willing to do it.”

This next step includes enlisting the help of elected officials, said the parents. Kelly, Tara Hagerman and Mary Ellen Gazda have reached out to New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. in the hopes of arranging a meeting.

“He does seem to want to talk with us,” Kelly said. “We will be setting up a meeting. He is aware of the situation that we’re in.”

The parents also have the option of gathering signatures of Bridgehampton voters to hold a referendum on this matter, according to school superintendent Dr. Lois Favre. In order to do that, they would need to collect signatures on a petition representing a percentage of the voting public in the school district calling for the district to provide transportation to McGann-Mercy. That petition would need to be accepted by the board of education in order for a referendum to be held.

While school board president Nicki Hemby was sympathetic to the parents’ concerns, she explained the issue was beyond the control of the school board.

“We discussed the busing issue at prior meetings, and according to school law we are unable to provide busing past a 15-mile radius,” she said in an interview. “Doing so would be breaking policy. We have not wavered from our original statement.”

The board mentioned the only exception to the 15-mile rule is for students enrolled in special education who can be bused to programs up to 50 miles away. Under this law, Bridgehampton School is allowed to transport students to BOCES in Riverhead.

Several board members also noted the steep cost of shuttling kids to McGann-Mercy and that this request comes at a time when the Bridgehampton School board is already financially pressed.

“We do not have that money in the budget,” said Dr. Favre in an interview. “I do not know the exact cost, as we did not entertain it in the budget, but closer [bus] runs have cost upwards of $50,000.”

In fact, the Bridgehampton School Board announced at their last meeting that they are working on contracts to share busing with the Sag Harbor School District for students attending Our Lady of the Hamptons (OLH), the nearest K-8 Catholic school which is in Southampton. Sharing with Sag Harbor, rather than contracting with a bus service provider, could potentially save Bridgehampton School $32,000 annually.

However, an agreement had not been reached as of this week, Dr. Favre noted.

“If we go in that direction, I don’t believe there will be any impact on the students,” she said.

Dr. Favre added the board is working to ensure that Bridgehampton students “will not be on the buses for a prolonged time, should we choose to contract with Sag Harbor.”

Currently Kelly, Hagerman and Gazda all send their children to OLH, which provides education from pre-school through eighth grade. Gazda’s daughter, Margaret, is about to turn 12, and her son, Jimmy, is nine-years-old. Hagerman has an 11-year-old daughter, Laura, who will enter 6th grade in the fall. Kelly’s daughter, Rose, will start 8th grade in September. Since Rose is a year away from entering Mercy, Kelly stressed the importance of settling any issues with transportation as soon as possible.

“We don’t want to make it a last minute thing. We want to make sure that that bus is set up for them,” Kelly said.

Hagerman said she and her husband both attended Catholic schools, and they want to provide their children with a similar education.

“The reason I choose Our Lady of the Hamptons is because I love that whole school community,” she said. “I will choose Mercy for my daughter for high school because I went there, as well, and I absolutely love the school.”

She noted that when she and other local students attended McGann-Mercy, “we piggybacked on the Montauk school bus. Our parents had to pay half and our church paid the other half. It was kind of a trip on the bus every day to Riverhead, but I got to meet so many people.”

For Gazda, sending her children to parochial schools is part of a family tradition.

“I attended Catholic school and my husband attended Catholic school — not only elementary school, but Catholic high school,” she said. “It’s just what we do.”

Although Kelly did not personally attend Catholic school, she decided before she had children that she wanted to go that route.

“Having that religious background, in my opinion, is very important in raising your children,” said Kelly. “It’s extremely important to my husband and me.”

Mary Ellen Gazda, Rachel Kelly and Tara Hagerman in front of the Bridgehampton School on Sunday. The parents are pushing for the Bridgehampton School to provide busing to McGann-Mercy in Riverhead. Photography by Michael Heller.