New York districts challenge mandated laws, regulations

Posted on April 18, 2011

Faced with the threat of layoffs, program cuts and a state budget that reduces education aid by nearly $1.3 billion, officials at school districts around New York State are challenging mandated laws and regulations that they find burdensome, costly or unnecessary. 

As an example, Port Washington Union Free School District sends out 17 buses with 1,122 seats to accommodate students from one of the district’s high schools who are eligible for bus service, even though more than half of the seats go empty at the end of the day because students stay late for sports and clubs, or find their own way home. The school district says it is required to provide a seat for every eligible child every day to comply with longstanding state laws that govern school transportation.

“It’s ludicrous to be doing this, and you can’t get anyone to listen,” Geoffrey N. Gordon, the district’s superintendent, told The New York Times. He estimated that the practice of running more buses than needed costs the district $2 million a year.

Some superintendents have also questioned a law that requires districts to provide busing and other aid to local children attending private schools as a benefit to those taxpayers.

Peter Mannella, executive director of the New York Association for Pupil Transportation, acknowledged the expense of busing private school students. He suggested limiting busing to private schools within 10 miles of a district, instead of the current 15-mile mandate, a move he said could save districts nearly $70 million a year, according to The New York Times.

Moreover, to illustrate how the mandates end up costing a lot of money, seven districts in two counties compiled a spreadsheet showing that to comply with state and federal mandates they spend a combined $94.5 million annually, or an average of 21 percent of their budgets. That amount does not include pension and healthcare increases passed along by the state.

In response to officials’ complaints over the imposed costs, Gov. Andrew Cuomo convened a statewide mandate-relief committee, and the Board of Regents has identified laws it considers outdated.

Related Topics: budget cuts, New York

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