Budget Constraints Throw Future of Special Education Busing into Question

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

The Rockland County Legislature’s Budget & Finance Committee met on Monday night to discuss possible solutions to the Board of Health’s revised busing policy for special needs children.

The revised policy could leave some students without adequate transportation and impede access to needed services. A presentation by Commissioner of Health Dr. Joan H. Facelle presented a new analysis of the program to the committee.

The report found that bussing for both full day and half day programs would require accommodating larger numbers of children, resulting in significant, unanticipated cost increases associated with the use of additional buses.

In the presentation, Facelle pointed out that the maximum possible cost of additional bus services would be more than $107,000 for one school alone, while the other three schools would boost estimated transportation costs up by about $403,000.

Hence, the busing could only provide for transportation to and from half-day programs, not including additional full day services.

“Granted, this is assuming the largest numbers of children, but it does substantiate our concerns,” said Facelle. “What started out as a favor became something that was utilized by many families, and that is the difficulty that we face.”

A possible compromise rests with reimbursement for transportation by parents, with the cost determined by the federal mileage rate. However, this does not address scheduling conflicts between schools and parents.

Kristin Moetzinger, whose son requires specialized help for a motor planning disorder, said that her husband often follows the bus to their son’s school. The trip takes up an hour of his workday and is impacting his job.

However, Moetzinger, an elementary school teacher, said that the best option for her son is to stay the entire day and receive the extra help. Hence, the family is caught between sacrificing educational necessities or professional and financial needs.

“I want my child in a therapeutic setting so he can overcome this,” Moetzinger said. “Someone’s gonna lose out on this, and I just really hope it’s not my son.”

Facelle iterated that although she feels sympathy for parents and children, accommodating one child might be construed as serving children out of convenience. Public services have to serve everybody or nobody, and the Department of Health might not have a choice.

“The problem that we’re faced with is if we do it for one school or one family or one set of students, then we have to do it for all,” Facelle stated.

 

No vote was held upon the issue and the discussion was limited to fact-finding and brainstorming, but there is likely to be continued dialogue and updates upon the situation as cost estimates and possible options come in from