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Letter: Expanding Busing for Catholic Schools is Fair, Makes Financial Sense

(Editor's note: This letter was submitted following a Newsday report that detailed how the approval of a ballot proposition expanding busing for students attending nonpublic schools would put the district's budget over the tax cap, meaning local taxpayers would not receive state rebate checks)

On May 20, 2014, the Patchogue-Medford school budget ballot will include Proposition 2 which seeks to increase the mileage for busing for Catholic high school students from 15 to 25 miles.

At the present time, no Catholic high schools fall within the 15 mile limit, forcing parents who choose to educate their children in the faith to not only pay tuition, but also busing, which adds between $2,600-4,000 to the cost of sending their children to a faith based school.

In many cases, parents who would otherwise select a Catholic high school education simply cannot exercise this right because transportation services are unaffordable.

Not only are these parents denied their right to choose a faith based school for their children, ALL taxpayers must then pay more than $21,000, on average, for each child enrolled in a Patchogue-Medford school as compared to the hundreds of dollars it would have cost to provide transportation to a Catholic school.

Please note that if a child attends Catholic school, the district still collects the money, but does not have to use the money to educate that child...a HUGE benefit to the taxpayer.

If these parents cannot send their children to Catholic school, it would force more children into the public schools, which would at the end of the day be much more costly to the taxpayers because they would be shouldering the costs currently covered by Catholic school tuition.

The Patchogue-Medford proposed budget is in excess of $171 million; the proposal to transport 51 children to Catholic high schools is $330,000 (according to district officials). This is only 0.19 percent of the budget!!!

To help parents exercise their right to choose a faith based school and to relieve a significant burden on taxpayers, we urge that the maximum distance the school district be required to transport students is increased from 15 to 25 miles. Most districts, including South Country, presently provide busing to Catholic schools up to 25 miles.

In closing, not only does it make financial sense to ALL taxpayers to vote in favor of busing, it is also about fairness. These Catholic families are taxpayers...by enacting these reforms taxpayers will continue to enjoy significant savings, while parents are provided the means and services that enable them to enroll their children in a faith based high school.

Steve McGiff
Patchogue Medford Coalition For Non District Students
Patchogue May 14, 2014 at 07:53 PM
Can't do it.
Steve McGiff May 15, 2014 at 07:47 AM
Fully cognizant that my tax payments are not school tuition; also fully aware that I chose to pay for a faith based education for my kids. Want the public schools to succeed, the products will be my neighbors, co workers, etc. That being said in Everson, the United States Supreme Court ruled that New Jersey’s law subsidizing the transportation of students to Catholic schools on public buses was not a violation of the establishment clause. The Court held that transportation, like police and fire protection, advanced the public welfare, and that the child, not the religious school, was the primary beneficiary of the aid. Therefore the state’s practice did not violate the First Amendment. The 330k number given to us by the district is insane; 171 million budget and this proposal is the one that will break the cap?? ask yourself this; if busing was available, those 51 kids may jump to 150, a huge savings to the district at the end of the day. as to your argument regarding the "inelastic" costs, i think we would all agree that the amount of waste in that budget is obscene
Daniel Cole May 15, 2014 at 01:46 PM
Steve - I agree with you that state law does not violate the Establishment Clause. The current 15 mile radius is completely neutral with respect to whether the private schools in question are religion-based. There is no legal barrier to the district voting to increase the radius, but I personally am uncomfortable with government money being used to facilitate a religion-based education (my own beliefs about church-state separation go beyond Constitution barriers) and that is one reason I personally am voting against the proposal. If the district feels differently, so be it. I also agree that the way the board set this proposal up to break the cap and trigger the 60 percent threshold was underhanded to say the least, though in their defense the tax cap this year was ridiculously low for Pat-Med, so I can understand their agressiveness to some extent. The entire tax cap law is poorly thought out, and situations like this one illustrate that. Would 150 students instead of 51 make the proposal more fiscally viable? Perhaps. It again depends on how the students are distributed throughout their current public school classes. We are still only talking about a small fraction of district enrollment. I would want to see a more detailed analysis of the cost benefits. To your point that there is waste in the budget, there is no doubt about that. I also question the $330000 estimate, though knowing the sweetheart contracting deals that often come about, it doesn't seem completely far fetch (ridiculous, yes, but not inconceivable). That said, we the voters can only vote for the budget and busing proposal as currently written and presented to us. Perhaps we need better representation on the board of education, but that is a different issue.
matthew simpson May 15, 2014 at 05:41 PM
Steve I could not agree with you more. The bottom line is that the results produced by the pat Med district are god awful. We could spend years debating who is to blame and never fully understand why the results produced by said district are so poor. The Unions vis a vis the school boards are actually prohibiting people from exercising there right to educate your child in a manner that we see fit. Unfortunately for tax payers the districts have no competition to speak of. The few brave ones that do send their child to a better atmosphere are made to feel like we are the problem. Many a times I have spoken with public school teachers who criticize me for my choice of educating my child with my money ! The most outlandish thing about this predicament is that a school like Holy Angels RA in Patchogue is able to educate a child for 25% of the cost the taxpayers pay per child to the school board. The families of the Pat med district get taken for an expensive ride by the board. Shame on the district and the union for taking 171,000,000 and delivering a subpar product. If history is any lesson the unions will bankrupt the district , thereby killing the Goose that laid the golden egg. Taxpayers wake up before its too late and reign this board and the union in.
Patchogue May 18, 2014 at 02:19 PM
The answer is for the school district to improve. I think the fiscal responsibility shown with this budget shows we are going in the right direction. However, I am not in favor of breaking the cap. The busing should not have been on a different line item, but it is and I have to vote no.


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