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Oct 8, 2013 5:40 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Parents Frustrated By Busing Changes At East Quogue Elementary

Oct 9, 2013 10:49 AM

When her youngest child, Reese, started school last month, Kim Smith thought she could return to work, something she’s had to take a break from in recent years to care for her three children.

But Ms. Smith’s plans were derailed when the busing district for the East Quogue Elementary School was changed to exclude homes that are less than a mile from the Central Avenue School, as opposed to those located less than a half-mile from the school, the previous limit. The change was put to a vote and approved by residents as part of the school district’s budgetary vote earlier this year.

Although her home on Louis Street is just a few blocks from the rear entrance to school, Ms. Smith, who previously worked as a nurse at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, said the walk is unsafe for Reese, who recently turned 5 and suffers from asthma, as well as a kidney disorder that causes urinary urgency and makes walking taxing. Prior to the change, the Smith home was outside the half-mile limit as calculated by road from the front of the school.

“There is no way that kindergarten kids should be walking alone anywhere,” she said. “No matter where they live.”

Ms. Smith, whose husband works in New York City and is unable to pick up their children either before or after school, left her nursing job two years ago after Reese underwent surgery to treat his hydronephrosis, a condition that restricts urine flow from the kidneys and can cause kidney failure.

“Any kindergarten kid should not be walking to school whether they have kidney problems, or asthma, or nothing at all,” she said. “It’s not me being a lazy mom or not having help—it’s about the safety of all these kids.”

Ms. Smith and other parents whose children attend East Quogue Elementary School say the language on the June 18 ballot that cut two buses, eliminating transportation for about 100 students—a move projected to save the district $57,000 this school year—was unclear. School district taxpayers had to vote on the proposition, in addition to the revised $22.4 million budget, after East Quogue’s original budget of about $23 million was rejected last May. Board of Education members added the busing proposition as part of $600,000 in proposed cuts to get the 2013-14 spending plan under the state-mandated tax cap. Residents approved the revised budget by a vote of 698-261, and the proposition passed by a vote of 708-251.

Ms. Smith and others, however, say they did not realize the busing cuts also applied to kindergarten pupils. One parent, Steve Dorn, said during last month’s Board of Education meeting that he voted for the change in bus routes but was unaware of what he was voting for, saying he didn’t realize the routes would be changed.

“We were told to vote ‘yes’ for the budget to pass,” he said. “I thought we were supposed to vote ‘yes’ and ‘yes,’” he added, referring to the budget and the only proposition on the June ballot.

According to the proposition’s language, a yes vote confirms that: “the East Quogue Union Free School District modify its school transportation minimum eligibility requirements, effective July 1, 2013, from the existing distance minimum between home to school of a half (1/2) mile, to a new minimum of one (1) mile; thereby reducing the proposed 2013-14 school district budget in the approximate amount of $57,000.”

The June 18 vote was the district’s second attempt to pass its 2013-14 budget after its first proposal—which would have increased the tax levy by 5.2 percent, piercing the state cap of 2.6 percent—failed to get the necessary 60 percent of the vote to pass. The cut in busing was introduced as part the school board’s plan to reduce spending to stay within the allowable increase range.

School Superintendent Les Black said he sympathizes with the parents affected by the busing cutbacks, but explained that they were crucial to getting this year’s budget under the tax cap. If the budget had failed a second time, district officials would have been forced, under the new state guidelines, to adopt a spending plan that does not increase the tax levy—a situation that would have forced the school to slash programs and positions.

Mr. Black also said that the only way to revert to the old busing system would be through a costly referendum. “My anticipation is that nothing will be done until the budget vote in the spring,” he said, adding that “the community did speak rather clearly on the issue of transportation.”

The move was one of several cost-cutting measures the board included in its second proposed budget that included eliminating a full-time special education teacher, four teacher assistant positions, three teacher aides, a custodian, a part-time speech teacher, a part-time psychologist and reducing the hours of the district’s technology specialist. Additional cuts and layoffs would have been necessary had the revised budget also been shot down by voters.

But Ms. Smith said she would rather the school reduce its staff than cut busing for kindergarteners, which she said puts the young students at risk. “I’d rather see a teacher get laid off than have the safety of kids be put in jeopardy,” she said.

Additionally, Ms. Smith has submitted documentation of her youngest son’s medical conditions to the Board of Education, along with a doctor’s note, requesting that he be provided busing, but her request was denied. Mr. Black said accommodations can be made for children with documented illnesses and disabilities, but that process must be determined through a hearing under Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires schools to fulfill the needs of children with disabilities. Ms. Smith said she is the process of seeking relief.

Although the walk is physically challenging for her youngest child, Ms. Smith said it is also taking its toll on her other children as well. She said she feels comfortable allowing her 11-year-old son, Christopher, and 7-year-old daughter, Malone, to walk to school together, but the additional responsibility of having to safeguard Reese on the walk to and from school has caused Christopher significant amounts of stress.

Additionally, Ms. Smith noted that she is concerned about the presence of a Level 2 sex offender who lives near the school; the district notified parents via a letter dated August 21 that an offender was now living in the community. The letter did not name the offender, or list a home address, but cautioned parents and students to be “alert and careful.” Websites that track such offenders say that three are currently residing in East Quogue—on Montauk Highway, and on Clinton and Ocean avenues.

Mr. Black said this week that special busing is being provided to those students who live near the offender in question or must walk past his home on their way to school.

Other parents, such as Michele Bertorello, are frustrated that buses pass their house on a daily basis and are unable to stop to pick up their children. Ms. Bertorello, who lives right on the edge of the busing cutoff, said she does not understand why her neighbor’s child can be bused while her 9-year-old son, Jake, is expected to walk, something she said she doesn’t feel comfortable allowing.

“I guess, like everyone else in the community, I’m very frustrated that our [first] budget vote did not pass, but at the same time I feel that with all the taxes I pay to live in [East Quogue], I do not understand why our school district never seems to have enough money,” she wrote in an email. “I also have a feeling that this same situation will be put in place next year.”

Mr. Black said the budget proposition clearly laid out its implications, noting that the issue was discussed multiple times during public hearings about the budget and during Board of Education meetings. He added that the reduction in services, which can be reversed only through another referendum, should not have come as a surprise to anyone.

But Ms. Smith and others think the board members tricked her and other parents into voting against their children’s best interests, and she wants them to either hold another referendum this year and, if that is not possible, schedule a vote for next May when the next school budget goes before taxpayers.

“I absolutely want to go forward and fight,” she said, “because it’s too far and too dangerous for kindergarten kids to be walking. I think kindergarten through third grade should be bused, because those young kids can’t do anything to protect themselves.”

Carolyn Terry, who served as president of the East Quogue Elementary Parent Teacher Association last year, said she was involved in getting information out to parents about both budget proposals. She noted that while the PTA and school did significant outreach, it is up to each parent to educate themselves on the district issues.

“It’s really important for people to come to board meetings,” Ms. Terry said.

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The SHP should get the facts right, Ms Smith lives on Lewis Rd which runs along the back of EQ Elementary School. She does not live several blocks away from the school rather 11 or 12 houses away from the back entrance of the school and has a sidewalk to walk on. Her children do not have to cross any streets. What's so dangerous about walking on this sidewalk to school??? A few houses away from the school and you want a bus for your children? Please stop your whining, the exercise is good for the ...more
By crusader (391), East Quogue on Oct 11, 13 8:28 PM
3 members liked this comment
I actually agree with crusader on this one!! Parents who attended the Board of Ed meetings after the initial budget failed came together and actually started a petition to get the vote to increase the distance for busing on the ballot. We did this because an overwhelming majority of our parents felt that retaining teachers was far more important than busing.
BTW - My children are bused, but I regularly drop them off and pick them up because Montauk Bus Co. is extremely unreliable. As a matter ...more
By cmac (184), East Quogue on Oct 12, 13 11:55 AM
1 member liked this comment
Why can't the children walk to school that are less than a mile? Sometimes that was the best part of the day. I really liked walking to school in E.Q. and I was further away than some of the kids on Lewis Rd.
By suzer67 (51), nanuet on Oct 12, 13 3:08 AM
1 member liked this comment
this is just plain ridiculous. they live a couple of feet from the school and are complaining? her plans to return to work were derailed because of a 1 minute walk to school? is this for real?
By bmr80 (35), east quogue on Oct 14, 13 5:48 PM
2 members liked this comment
10 bucks says she didn't even vote.
By bubby (236), southampton on Oct 14, 13 8:11 PM
It is time to close East Quoque, and consolidate with WHB. Cutting bus service isn't going to save EQ schools.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Oct 15, 13 8:06 AM
1 member liked this comment
Ridiculous! She has two other children, one of who is 9 years old! Are you telling me the three children can't walk down the sidewalk on Lewis by themselves? And this is the reason she gives as to why she can't return to work?! This woman needs a reality check!
By Miss K. (103), East Quogue on Oct 15, 13 10:03 AM
Better yet if she's at work does that mean her little children are left alone? I'm not sure why people have kids and surprised when they require extra work.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Oct 15, 13 1:18 PM
Wow, what is with all of the personal attacks on this woman? You people who sit back and judge are pathetic. 27East, is it your policy to post stories about individual citizens so that a bunch of nameless morons can attach them? Disgusting.
By progressnow (556), sag harbor on Oct 15, 13 1:32 PM
1 member liked this comment
The only irrelevant personal attack I see is the one from Bubby that supposes she didn't vote. All the rest are responses to a story that apparently Ms. Smith initiated herself as she is listed as the source for the photos accompanying the article.
By VOS (1241), WHB on Oct 15, 13 1:49 PM
4 members liked this comment
Take another look.
By progressnow (556), sag harbor on Oct 15, 13 2:12 PM
I agree that many of these comments are unnecessarily personal:

"10 bucks says she didn't even vote."

" I'm not sure why people have kids and surprised when they require extra work."

"A few houses away from the school and you want a bus for your children? Please stop your whining, the exercise is good for the children. If you aren't working walk your children to school the exercise is good for you too!!!"

And, rather than addressing the issue directly, many choose ...more
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Oct 15, 13 3:06 PM
1 member liked this comment
My anger is directed at the SH Press...can I submit photos of myself for the front page of the paper and get just my side of the story told? Not one single parent who supported the proposition was interviewed!
"Ms. Smith and others think the board members tricked her and other parents into voting against their children’s best interests"
Board members didn't trick anyone! The PARENTS asked for this proposition!!!
By cmac (184), East Quogue on Oct 15, 13 4:30 PM
4 members liked this comment
Nobody is mad here or making any attacks. I'm sure this is a lovely family, and the mother is outstanding . The subject is cutting back and trying to survive. Having to walk a couple blocks to school isn't a hardship or even a sacrifice it is just a part of everday life.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Oct 16, 13 8:49 AM
4 members liked this comment
I personally would not allow my 5 yr old to walk down Lewis rd.. It's a truck route.. With excessive speed... And considing there are about 3 know sex offenders residing in the area... A young child is a primary target!! All kids should be eligible for a bus... Especially young ones.. It's a different day they need to be protected....
By Lucky7 (5), East quogue on Oct 17, 13 11:48 AM
Another thought if she allowed her 5 yr old to walk... Would cps be involved??yes... cause it is illegal, and unsafe to have a young child unattended... It should not be allowed!! People need to get out there and vote!!! For these kids.. When I was in kindergarten he went 1/2 days and took naps " because we're still babies that cannot unable to protect ourselves... as a community WE should stick together and make sure safety is a primary concern... Ask yourself this would you allow your five yrs ...more
By Lucky7 (5), East quogue on Oct 17, 13 12:10 PM
She also has a 9 year old and a 7 year old at the school. So, three siblings walking along the sidewalk together past 10-12 houses to get to their home. It is not a mile by any means. BTW that whole area of Lewis is a "school zone" with police, crossing guards, etc. when school lets out. LOTS of kids are walking that way when school is let out. In the DAYTIME. When I was 5 I walked home from school every day with my 6 year old sister and 9 year old brother. Give me a break, lady. You need to ...more
By Miss K. (103), East Quogue on Oct 17, 13 12:47 PM
3 members liked this comment
... "If my child suffered from urinary urgency I wouldn't feel comfortable putting them on the bus." ???
By William Rodney (561), southampton on Oct 17, 13 1:31 PM
1 member liked this comment
EQ children can be on the bus for up to an hour depending on the route/driver/conditions. I (I did say I) wouldn't feel comfortable putting MY child on the bus if they suffered from urinary urgency. That is MY opinion. Last I checked we still had the right to express our opinion in this country, but we have lost so many rights lately I guess I better check on that!
By cmac (184), East Quogue on Oct 17, 13 4:11 PM
... I am behind your right to express your opinion, without question. My point is that there really is no such thing as urinary urgency, and if it did exist, the bus driver would have it before your child.

I do remember Seinfeld suffered from Uromysitsis ( at least that's what he told the security officer) when he got caught urinating against the wall in the enclosed parking lot at the mall.
By William Rodney (561), southampton on Oct 17, 13 5:10 PM
2 members liked this comment
Did you read the article? The mother cited that her child suffers from a kidney disorder which causes urinary urgency and that is why he needs a bus.
By cmac (184), East Quogue on Oct 17, 13 5:47 PM
1 member liked this comment
If the busses take up to an hour to bring the child home, wouldn't it be quicker for the children to just walk home down Lewis for a bit?
By Miss K. (103), East Quogue on Oct 18, 13 8:48 AM
You sound like a complete moron!!! Maybe you should go back to school... And get you doctor's... Comparing a child illness to a Seinfeld episode!!! Get a grip!
By Lucky7 (5), East quogue on Oct 20, 13 8:47 AM
We live in a very cynical word... I don't feel it nessasary to bash a mother trying to protect her "unwell" child... Shame on you!! Different folks for different stokes! Unless you know these are terrible parents you should not pass judgement! I'm sure threw the medical documentation a buss is needed... And I'm sure this family pays taxes like every other family... I would pass the judgement on the 3 sex offenders residing in east qougue!!! It's not easy letting your voice be heard and standing ...more
By Lucky7 (5), East quogue on Oct 18, 13 7:25 AM
1 member liked this comment
"Shame on the school for not allowing kindergarten transportation... Never have I heard of such!!!!"
Here is where I must correct you! The school would love to provide kindergarten transportation, they would love to provide extra help for kids who need it, they would love to provide a librarian, they would love to provide a foreign language teacher, they would love to provide busing for field trips, they would love to provide after school clubs. Unfortunately, the taxpayers don't want to pay ...more
By cmac (184), East Quogue on Oct 18, 13 9:14 AM
2 members liked this comment
i know the family... and know the reasons why a bus should be provided! BTW... she did vote..... and drives mulitple children to school and is a caring mom, and wants the best education for ALL kids... unfortunatly many people in our community did not vote... for the love of god it failed by 7 votes.... my child in the eq school is a bus rider and it did not affect us, and i would not have known this was even going on. I must say a mile is rather far for small children! but thats my opinion... ...more
By flay (1), east quogue on Oct 18, 13 9:46 AM
What don't you people understand taxes are going up 9 % in East Quoque this year. When you have children sometimes you have to drive them or walk them to school. I think it is selfish to ask for special treatment in these trying times.N Negative opinions? Really? We all have things that happen to our family that's a part of life. By the way how do you think it feels when someone's on a fixed income and their taxes go up nine percent?
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Oct 18, 13 6:16 PM
1 member liked this comment
Yes chief!! Totally agree... It is difficult and I totally sympathize with people on a fixed income or anyone struggling fot that matter!!! I don't want our taxes raised either!! And yes kids can walk if there old enough. Like 4-6 grade... And the busses that the school pays for should be packed... There is room.. Those small children should be safe guarded!! That not to much to ask for..
By Lucky7 (5), East quogue on Oct 18, 13 7:09 PM
There is a process that these parents need to go through to get the child medically necessary transportation, a 504. If it is truly a medical necessity, it shouldn't be difficult or even very time consuming for the child to get special approval for bussing, it just needs to be done the right way.
By lamm (304), Southampton on Oct 19, 13 10:37 PM
2 members liked this comment
You are correct. The mother should request an initial 504 meeting to determine if there is indeed a medical issue, and modifications could be made.
By Miss K. (103), East Quogue on Oct 21, 13 9:32 AM