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North Salem Schools Talk Private School Busing

NORTH SALEM, N.Y. – North Salem’s Board of Education meeting last week revisited the issue of state mandates. The newly passed Executive Law 666 allows school districts to challenge three unfunded mandates, for which the board has already agreed upon two in association with the Westchester Putnam School Boards Association (WPSBA). The third mandate under possible consideration applies to busing of private school students.

“At the last meeting we agreed to bring back some hard numbers,” Superintendent Ken Freeston said. “Our per-pupil cost for transporting public school students is $969 each. For private and parochial school students it’s $4,821. It’s a significant cost difference.

“We transport only 2 percent of our kids to non-publics but we are geographically so spread out that the mandate costs per-pupil are greater. So North Salem experiences this mandate differently from other districts in the county.”

Katherine Daniels, board of education president, said the district has an obligation to make sure every North Salem child is educated. “That’s why the mandate exists,” she said. “New York is unique in requiring local school districts to bus private school children. What we have to figure out is how to make this district more cost-effective for taxpayers.”

Freeston said that since some private schooled children and some special education students ride the same bus, relief mandate doesn’t end up saving $4,821 per child. “We’ll be making those same trips anyway.”

“If we have a bus already going to one area and we just add the private school kids, they’re welcome on our busses if the mandate is lifted,” Trustee Andrew Brown said.

One private school parent, Pam Barsh, said, “You are still taking my money, my tax money. I feel that providing me with a bus is a reasonable accommodation. You aren’t educating my child. I think we’re entitled to something for our money and really, the only thing is the bus.”

Daniels said the matter had nothing to do with the budget. “We’re not talking about cutting this from our budget this year. This is a long-term thing. It’s a request for relief from a state mandate. We’re asking the state either to give us relief from the requirement or to fund the requirement.”

“Either reduce the mandate or provide funding,” Freeston said. “It’s not the mandate we challenge. It’s the fact that it’s not funded.”

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