If you snatch relatively safe yellow school bus service away from schoolchildren, even 13-year-olds, they are going to be more at risk getting to and from school on their own. The Bloomberg administration and the city Department of Education dispute this simple statement mightily, but it stands to reason.
The truth of it was made starkly clear June 28 when a seventh-grader racing to catch a city bus after the final day of classes at the Staten Island School for Civic Leadership on Goethals Road North was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer truck.
Aniya Williams, 13, was one of thousands seventh- and eighth-graders - most of them on Staten Island - who were denied the variances that had allowed them to get yellow school bus transportation before this school year. That denial came as the result of a DOE blanket policy that ignores the scarcity and unreliability of public transportation in this borough and the general difficulty for kids who live a distance from their schools to get to and from them.
The amount saved by this short-sighted cost-cutting measure? A paltry $2.1 million a year and even that estimate may be optimistic, considering the additional costs to the city of dealing with the increased chaos and traffic outside of schools at arrival and dismissal times.
Had Aniya been allowed to take the school bus, it would have picked her up in front of the school and gotten her home. She wouldn’t have had to race across busy streets to catch the city bus.
Instead, because she had to do that very thing to get home, she ran in front of a truck and was killed, which is exactly what critics of what Councilman Vincent Ignizio called the city’s “foolishly implemented plan” said would happen sooner or later.
Of course, the Department of Education denies there’s any connection between the tragedy and the city’s policy.
“This is a terrible tragedy - it’s a tragedy any time we lose a child,” said Natalie Ravitz of the department. “Each day, students in all five boroughs make their way to and from school on public transportation - tragically, on this occasion, a terrible accident happened. Our thoughts and prayers are with Ms. Williams’ family and friends and the school community at this time.”
In other words, stuff happens.
Last winter, State Supreme Court Justice John Fusco called DOE’s decision “arbitrary and capricious” and “without concern for the welfare and safety of the affected students.”
But the city immediately appealed that ruling.
The Appellate Division recently announced that it backs the city.
There is still legislative hope for reinstatement of the service, bypassing the mayor, or any court decisions.
A bill passed the state Senate earlier this year that would mandate yellow bus service for students in grades three through eight, and it is pending in the Assembly.
However, the city has been lobbying fiercely behind the scenes. It appears to have succeeded. So far, the measure remains stalled in the Assembly Education Committee as the end of the session looms. That’s a pretty good indication it’s not going anywhere.
All this resistance to the idea of protecting adolescent schoolchildren to save a lousy $2.1 million (if it is that much)?
The city squanders more than that before lunch on any given day on a lot less important things.
State Sen. Andrew Lanza said the incident “turns my stomach,” adding, “I don’t think this is about cost any longer. The Bloomberg administration can’t speak to cost savings. I think it’s about ego.”
He may be onto something.
The Bloomberg administration refuses to acknowledge that getting to and from school on Staten Island is a lot harder than it is in the other boroughs. The administration refuses to recognize this “particular need” for school bus service here, Councilman James Oddo said. When borough officials asked for that consideration, he said, “We were treated as though we are asking for a special indulgence - and it’s not the case.”
The administration is counting on the fact that this is an isolated case. But as far as we and a lot of other people here are concerned, Aniya would be alive if she had been able to take a school bus home last Tuesday.
As Assemblyman Lou Tobacco charged, “These bureaucrats have blood on their hands.”
Published: Tuesday, July 05, 2011, 8:47 AM Updated: Tuesday, July 05, 2011, 8:47 AM