By Emily Dooley
Like many entities across Long Island, the Port Washington Union Free School District has made some budget cuts.
The district decided to reduce its bus fleet to more accurately reflect ridership and stagger the start of elementary schools so fewer buses could cover all routes.
In doing so, it cut $412,000 -- nearly 17 percent -- from its transportation budget.
The district got concessions from its bus company to reduce vehicles and reached an agreement with unions to stagger elementary start times between 8:10 and 8:50 a.m.
It also took advantage of a new state law that allows school districts to base bus routes on actual patterns of ridership. In the past, they had to provide a bus seat for every eligible student, even those who walked, drove or were dropped off. About 60 percent of the district's 5,209 students ride buses, Superintendent Geoffrey N. Gordon said.
Instead of running 33 buses like last year, they now run 26.
This year's School Bus Mandate Relief Act "gave us the latitude to say 'What's our real ridership?' " Gordon said.
The law, sponsored by Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), is designed to help districts cut costs and put the savings toward other programs.
In Port Washington, the savings led to new teachers and class offerings, including high school Mandarin Chinese.
"Any time we can help fund education by eliminating a mandate that is no longer serving its purpose, the taxpayers and our school districts are winners," Martins said.
Other Long Island districts have made busing changes.
The Herricks Union Free School District eliminated one of its 16 public school routes and reassigned that bus to transport students to private, parochial or special education schools. The savings total $81,000, said John Conklin, district director of transportation.
The Lawrence Union Free Schools district will save $200,000 after reducing its number of buses by four to 100, officials said. Westbury Public Schools reduced the number of van routes from 16 to 11 for a savings of more than $42,000. Its bus routes were unchanged.
Hewlett-Woodmere Public Schools, Sag Harbor Union Free School District and Center Moriches School District each reduced their routes by one for a total savings of more than $150,000, officials said.
Other districts, including Franklin Square and Jericho union free school districts, are collecting information this year to determine if changes should be made to cut costs.
Ridership fluctuates depending on families moving in or out of a district, said Victor P. Manuel, Jericho's assistant superintendent for business affairs. The district does not want to overload buses or create a route that takes students an hour to get to and from school, he said.
"We will be taking student counts several times throughout this year of all of our routes in an effort to assess the actual ridership and plan accordingly for next year," he said.