The Northern Westchester Examiner

Busing for Peekskill Elementary Students at Stake in Proposition

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A transportation proposition to only include busing next year for Peekskill School District students in kindergarten through fifth grade in public and private schools will be decided by voters next Tuesday.

If the controversial proposition fails on May 19, no bus transportation would be available for any students in public or private schools, and elementary schools in the district may be redistricted.

“After a lot of deliberations it was not an easy decision,” Superintendent of Schools Larry Licopoli said during a recent joint meeting with the Peekskill Common Council. “The board had to grapple with this and rethink how to best serve our kids.”

District officials had been considering asking voters to approve a proposition that would have provided busing for all students, including in the middle school and high school, who currently have to walk or be driven to school.

“We were deadlocked to the last minute,” Board of Education President Douglas Glickert said. “We care about every student in the district.”

If approved, the $1.765 million referendum would cover busing for 1,123 elementary public school students and 192 private school students who live within 15 miles of the school they attend. Not covered would be private high school students who have received busing from the district for the last 20 years.

John F. Kennedy High School President/Principal Rev. Mark Vaillancourt told the Board of Education and Common Council 50 students from Peekskill who currently attend his Catholic school in Somers would likely not be able to continue there without busing.

“I saw this as losing a partnership with the district. The bus is the bedrock of that relationship,” he remarked, noting JFK has students bused from 18 different districts in the region. “We’re just helping to give an option for education for people in your district.”

In March, district officials held a quickly organized informational meeting to inform parents and guardians that current district transportation practices, including propositions and resolutions that authorized them, were not in full compliance with state Education Law.

With busing included, the proposed budget for next school year currently stands at $83.65million, and includes a tax increase of 2.62%. Without busing, taxes would decrease 2%. Busing for field trips, athletic events and special education students would still be provided if the transportation proposition is defeated.

Peekskill received $2.5 million more in state aid than it had anticipated. The additional funding will allow the district to offer new programs and services and add 27 new positions, including six part-time teacher aides, four reading teacher specialists, one bilingual secretary and a dance teacher for the middle school and high school.

The debate spilled into the Common Council, where Councilman Vincent Vesce, whose children attend JFK, argued busing was an essential service provided by the district.

“We look at it as giving people a choice. People who live in Peekskill don’t have the choice to send children to private or Catholic schools,” Vesce said of the proposition. “It’s a serious issue.”

However, Councilwoman Vivian McKenzie said the Board of Education made the right decision, remarking, “To make the school system better I think that’s the better choice.”

During a work session last week, Vesce took Councilwoman Kathy Talbot to task for posting a Facebook message alleging he, Mayor Frank Catalina and Councilman Joe Torres invited Vaillancourt and private school parents to the joint meeting with the Board of Education without informing the Democratic majority or the public.

Vesce called Talbot’s actions a “divide and conquer tactic” and stressed the joint meeting was publicly advertised and open to anyone.

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