School Busing Options Could Save Money, Impact Later Start Times

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On a cue from Diana Kolhoff, who represented the Sag Harbor School Board’s transportation committee, the school board on Monday launched a conversation about multiple issues that are intersecting with each other as the school year comes to a crescendo: busing logistics and costs, later school start times, and athletes’ and coaches’ early departures from academic support and ninth period at Pierson Middle-High School.

The school board recently expressed interest in bringing school transportation costs down in light of news that pushing the start time at Pierson 15 minutes later last year raised busing costs more than $300,000 — which some on the board have said was unanticipated. And while the issue of student athletes and coaches leaving Pierson early for some sporting events was not a brand-new issue, the problem seems to have been exacerbated.

But some on the board remain adamant that the current start time at Pierson — which is 7:50 a.m. — remains unchanged, 15 minutes later than its previous time of 7:35 a.m. Of six different ideas Ms. Kolhoff presented on behalf of the transportation committee, one of them, “Option D,” would move Pierson’s start time 10 minutes earlier.

“I think that’s a step backwards,” board member Alex Kriegsman said.

Board member Susan Lamontagne agreed, saying, “If one listens to some of the parents … there is very solid support in the direction we’ve gone.”

Ms. Kolhoff said the committee started by seeking ways to shave the costs of outsourcing Sag Harbor’s afternoon bus runs to Montauk Student Transportation, which school officials have said is necessary because there isn’t enough time between the close of the school days at Pierson and Sag Harbor Elementary School for the district’s own drivers to make it back in time for the homebound trips for middle and high schoolers.

“Option D” would move the Pierson start time to 7:40 a.m. and slightly ease the issue of coaches and students leaving school early. It would allow enough “lag time” for Sag Harbor school bus drivers to accomplish homebound runs at both Pierson and Sag Harbor Elementary. The transportation committee estimated it could save the district $200,000 to $250,000.

A similar idea, “Option E,” would move the elementary school start time 10 minutes later, to 9 a.m. It would also provide enough lag time and save a similar amount of money. However, afternoon drop-offs in the wintertime for elementary school students would take place under darker skies. And as board vice president Jordana Sobey put it, “For dual-income families … if you have to drop your kid off at 9 a.m., you can’t get to work at 9 a.m.”

“Option A” would keep everything the same as it is now. The Montauk bus runs cost Sag Harbor $318,374.

“Option B” would move the elementary school start time 15 minutes earlier. The afternoon bus run would be a combined bus run for all students, kindergarten through 12th grade, with Pierson students boarding first. Multiple “cons” were identified: three more buses with drivers would be needed; buses cannot idle, which means no heat or air conditioning for the Pierson students while they are waiting for the younger kids to board buses; there would be more bus traffic at the schools and on the roads in the community; and the kids may find it confusing.

“Option C” would add one afternoon Pierson bus, for a total of six runs. That would get the middle-high school students home more quickly, allowing Sag Harbor’s own bus drivers to get back to the elementary school in time to take the younger kids home. The option would save an estimated $200,000 to $235,000, and would take advantage of existing buses in the district’s fleet, but would increase bus traffic and yield safety challenges in the bus loop.

Janice Arbia, a Sag Harbor bus driver who is on the transportation committee and is also a Sag Harbor parent, urged the school board to avoid “Option C.” She suggested moving the Pierson start time 10 minutes earlier is the best way to go.

“We already have kids chasing buses with just five of us there,” Ms. Arbia said. “We are talking about 10 minutes to save taxpayers a lot of money. I would hate to be in any of your shoes, god forbid a kid got hit by a bus because we couldn’t do a 10-minute change.”

“Option F” would change the elementary start time 25 minutes earlier and add one afternoon bus run at Pierson. It would accomplish all bus runs in-house, yielding significant savings, but shares multiple “cons” with other options.

Board member Susan Schaefer supported “Option D,” saying “I think that all of us can find 10 minutes in a day.”

“Option C” emerged as a favorite among some of the board members.

“The issue with the sixth bus — I think we can find a way to make that safe,” Ms. Lamontagne said.

The board did not make a decision Monday, with members agreeing they needed more time to think.

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