- Posted October 1, 2012 by
Staten Island, New York
City Defies State
City defies state on Staten Island school bus issue
Published: Monday, October 01, 2012, 12:31 PM Updated: Monday, October 01, 2012, 12:31 PM
By Staten Island Advance Editorial
Advance photo: Michael Oates
City Hall is at odds with Albany over busing for middle schoolers on Staten Island.
At one point, it might have been possible to plausibly defend the city's refusal to provide yellow school bus service to thousands of seventh- and eighth-grade students on Staten Island.
That point has long since passed.
Now the city's stubbornness has become full-blown pig-headedness.
The Department of Education, acting on orders from City Hall, yanked the service for older middle-school students in 2009. The DOE contended that it wasn't necessary for students of that age, despite the fact that kids on Staten Island, particularly on the South Shore, where public transit is sketchy, typically face longer and more arduous commutes to and from school. Of course, the DOE and Bloomberg administration officials who made this myopic decision live in places such as Greenwich Village and Park Slope, where schools are just a short walk away for most students.
Then, realizing they had to come up with a better rationale, they retrofitted a justification arrived at by a tortured reading of a clause in the state education law. The clause says that cities must provide students in “like circumstances” with the same transportation services. According to that rationale whatever the DOE did for students on Staten Island it had to do for students in the other four boroughs.
Again, the seventh- and eighth-grade students in Park Slope face transportation circumstances nothing remotely like those faced by students in Charleston. But that was the city's story and city officials stuck to it.
So state Sen. Andrew Lanza and Assemblyman Michael Cusick did a legislative end-around by passing a measure, signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, that effectively exempted Staten Island students from the “like circumstances” stricture. It restored the waiver system that had allowed students in this borough to get yellow bus service for over 40 years prior to 2009.
That should have been game over for the city, but city officials, apparently miffed, found another cheesy rationale to deny bus service to students who deserve it. They insisted that the law, passed earlier this year, applied only to students in schools that had gotten bus service before it was rescinded. That has meant that students at the Staten Island School of Civic Leadership and the Marsh Avenue Expeditionary Learning School, two newer schools, are excluded, according to city lawyers twisted view.
So Mr. Lanza and Mr. Cusick took their case to no less an authority than the state Education Department to try to bring some reasonableness to this dispute.
Sure enough, the state Education Departments Chief Operating Officer, Valerie Grey, wrote in a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's director of state legislative affairs, “It is clear that the intent of the Legislature was to restore service to 7th and 8th Grade students in those areas of New York City where variances would have been granted in the 2009-2010 school year.”
She added that the lawmakers bill and the memo in support of it “clearly identifies the Staten Island area as one of the areas in which such variances were in effect at that time.”
The states position couldn't be any clearer. So that should settle it, right?
Wrong. The city has dug in its heels, insisting that the law applies only to schools where bus service would be reinstated, and not to schools which didn't have seventh- and eighth-graders three years ago. The DOE is once again claiming that providing bus service to older students in the two excluded schools would open up the city to the charge that it violated the “like circumstances” clause.
Of course, the law clearly refers to geographic areas, not to schools, but the city is clinging to that lame excuse for denying the service.
And so all the seventh- and eighth-grade students at those two schools have to make their own way to and from school, no matter the hardship, while their peers in other schools get to ride the bus.
Mr. Lanza, understandably, was incredulous.
“Here we have the state Education Department, who is clearly a higher authority on education matters than the City of New York, and they have weighed in on the matter and they have said what we've always said — the law is clear and the city is wrong,” he fumed.
Asked what his and Mr. Cusick's next step might be, Mr. Lanza said, “A lawsuit is always possible, but hopefully that can be avoided.”
In dealing with city officials whose pig-headness in defying the state Education Department and continuing to deny bus service to 12- and 13-year-olds is beyond shameful, we don't think there's any other option. 
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