District cuts costs but students have longer rides
The Garrison School buses generated fumes this week — and not just from their tailpipes.
Eight parents attended the school board meeting on Wednesday (Sept. 6) to vent about the bus service, which has been curtailed for 2023-24 as part of efforts to avoid asking residents to override a state-mandated limit on tax increases.
“What an outrage,” said Katie Cucchiarella, who lives on South Mountain Pass, in southern Philipstown, and told The Current that her first grader’s ride to school changed from 15 minutes to an hour. She is driving him to school but said he misses traveling with his friends. “It’s unfortunate,” she said.
During the spring budget process, Garrison cut its bus service from four 66-passenger vehicles to three large buses and a 20-passenger van. Joseph Jimick, the business administrator, said the move saved $120,000.
“The choice was a bus or a teacher,” he said.
While the buses can accommodate up to 300 students, Superintendent Carl Albano said ridership is usually 30 to 40 percent below capacity. The district also offers transportation for its high school students from the Garrison School to Haldane, O’Neill and Putnam Valley.
At the Wednesday meeting, Jimick said that “the routes are longer for everyone.” To make the system as fair as possible, the district is attempting to ensure that if a student has a long ride in the morning, the child will have a shorter ride in the afternoon.
Jimick also said that the buses no longer go through as many neighborhoods, stopping at or near driveways. Instead, the district created “community stops” that are not always within easy walking distance of home.
He said these issues were discussed in the spring when the district was seeking ways to cut costs and avoid a second consecutive request to taxpayers to override the cap. The board adopted a $12.56 million budget that included a 3.3 percent increase, matching its state cap for 2023-24. The year before, residents OK’d an override (which requires 60 percent approval) of 6.6 percent (the cap was 2.2 percent) but only after rejecting a request for a 9.18 percent hike.
Speaking at the meeting, Ned Rauch, who has two children at the school, said that the bus changes are the result of the board’s failure to ask for an override. “We got what we asked for, which was a lousy bus system,” he said.
Rauch, who lives within 2 miles of the school, said that his children have a 10-minute ride in the morning and a 45-minute ride home in the afternoon. As a result, he picks them up after school. “It’s too long for little kids who are already exhausted at the end of the day,” he said.
Other parents expressed frustration with their community stops. Ryan Quinn, who has one child at Garrison and two at Haldane High School, said that the bus used to stop at her driveway in Continental Village but is now a 10-minute walk to a spot she says is dangerous. “Winston Lane has become a speedway,” she said, although she noted the time her children spend on the bus hasn’t changed much.
Jimick added that bus-route challenges are not unusual during the first weeks of school. “There’s some tweaking that will have to take place,” he said.