Testimony for City Council Education Budget Hearing held March 21, 2022
from Parents to Improve School Transportation (PIST NYC)
[Submitted on March 24, 2022 by Sara Catalinotto, founder of PIST NYC]
School busing is a necessary educational service for approximately 150,000 NYC children and youth who attend either Early Intervention, 3-K, pre-K, state-funded non-public school, parochial school or Yeshiva. It is also a key component of activities such as school trips, sports games, and vocational programs and internships.
Transportation is a mandate within the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, NYSED law, and NYCDOE Chancellor’s Regulation A-801. Medicaid reimbursement can be pursued for specialized busing (a Related Service equivalent to Speech/Language Therapy and others) to supplement funds procured through these federal, state, and local mandates.
Beyond that, school transportation as a part of education is eligible for the Equal Funding which the State owes our school district(s); as part of the transportation infrastructure is eligible for upcoming federal Infrastructure investments, especially with the pending transition to electric vehicles; and the understaffed school bus (and mass transit) workforce are Essential Workers eligible for Covid Relief funding sources.
This past weekend, we hosted a cross section of impacted families and interested allies to promote our legislative campaign for a 2022 ballot initiative nicknamed the School Bus Bill of Rights. Below you will find a summary and selection of quotes from organizations and individuals– including current and former school bus riders with disabilities advocating for themselves–from the day.
We would like for the Council to incorporate into its budget projections the growing demand for system change in pupil transportation. We believe that an investment now, for example into acquiring more bus fleets such as was done with the buy-out of Reliant Transportation by non-profit New York City School Bus Umbrella Services (NYCSBUS), will ultimately save money. A large chunk of the Office of Pupil Transportation budget currently only goes to private owners of these fleets who may or may not be local taxpayers–with no public oversight as to how or whether they meet standards we would set for upkeep of the vehicles, recruiting, training, and retaining a dedicated workforce, and efficient and compassionate customer service for worried parents and caregivers whose only wish is to get their children to school and home on time in decent physical and mental condition. In addition to the billions of dollars that school bus companies are paid directly from the taxpayers, every day they issue multiple outrageous fines to hardworking drivers for petty infractions, e.g. $200 for wearing the uniform but not the necktie. The insult and injury heaped on these safety professionals is one more thing driving attrition, to the point that as OPT admitted, 550 routes had no driver assigned on the first day of school year 2021-22.
We feel strongly that waste can be cut and redirected into making sure this vital public service is of the quality that our students deserve. Thank you for your consideration and please read on.
We then pasted our press release which you can access at http://pistnyc.org/march-19-rally-march-press-release.aspx