The transportation policy/decisions that a school district makes have a substantial impact on student health, attendance, safety, as well as school district funding. This study is being conducted in light of the ongoing issues surrounding transportation in the Greater Amsterdam School District.
The district’s current model for transportation of students is inadequate and ineﬃcient. The nationwide shortage of qualified bus drivers also negatively impacts the district, causing lengthy bus trips, consolidated routes, delayed arrivals and departures, canceled field trips, increased costs associated with GASD transportation contract, and in extreme cases, children and families are having to provide their own means of transportation to and from school. Heiser, Mannella, and Martin (2019) Yellow Buses, Red Flags: New York’s School Bus Driver Shortage. Read full report.
The current GASD elementary magnet schools model has multiple busses stopping at the same bus stop to drive students across town to go to school. With the loss of magnet school programming, due to the loss of grant funding, it is imperative that the district evaluates the current model and assess how changes in school programming might positively impact student transportation.
This study will provide potential solutions to current transportation problems. It will evaluate returning to neighborhood schools, provide information to consider regarding outside agencies for transportation needs, and assess potential purchases in an effort to establish an eﬃcient and optimal transportation system.
The study will conclude with recommendations for short-term and long-term action steps that will support equitable access to before, during and after school programming for our students. First and foremost, the district’s transportation policy/decision need to increase equity of access to high-quality education for all.
History of Enrollment at GASD
The GASD utilized neighborhood school boundaries for the majority of its existence. In 2005, the district was awarded grant funding to create the Raphael J. McNulty School of International Studies – the ﬁrst magnet school in the district. As time went on, each of the remaining three elementary schools took on different magnet themes. Grant funding was available to support these initiatives and student registration became a school choice operation. Speciﬁcally, in 2005, The Raphael J. McNulty Academy for International Studies and Literacy completed its ﬁrst year as a district magnet school. The GASD Board of Education upon review of the magnet program success at McNulty began a study of expanding the magnet initiative to the other elementary schools. As a result, the district received a New York State legislative grant of $300,000.00 to explore and expand the Magnet School Project in addition to the original funding of $500,000.00.
Yearly funding of magnet schools:
- 05/06 Magnet funding $498,482.00
- 06/07 Magnet funding $500,000.00 + GF $300,000.00 = $800,000.00 Added Curie
- 07/08 Magnet funding $500,000.00 + GF $300,000.00 = $800,000.00
- 08/09 Magnet funding $500,000.00 + GF $300,000.00 = $800,000.00 added Barkley and Tecler using C4E funding.
- 09/10 Magnet funding 0 + and the $300,000 i n the GF was rolled i nto the foundation aid.
Remnants of the magnet themes can be seen in some buildings but the overall majority of the magnet programming went away when funding was lost.
Would neighborhood schools help students and families?
Yes: currently students are spending an average of 25 – 40 minutes on the bus each way. This does not include extended bus trips due to consolidated routes or the time before and after school students must wait at the bus stop when buses are delayed. Neighborhood schools would offer the option of walking or biking to school for current students and a short burst of moderate exercise can improve the physical and mental health of the entire student body.
Additionally, not all families have personal transportation. If a student misses the bus, it may be hard for the parent to get the child to school, and often the student simply stays home which in turn impacts absenteeism. Also, many parents may never have been to their child’s school. Without a car, the time and cost of travel may be too much for them to attend a parent-teacher conference or PTA meeting. If the school were nearby, traveling would not be such a burden and therefore would provide more opportunity for parent involvement.
How would returning to neighborhood schools impact student learning?
The GASD supports a uniﬁed curriculum in ELA, mathematics, science and social studies in grades pre-K through 5. In other words, the curriculum is common across the district. Students in each school will have equal access to all educational opportunities. In other words, the impact on student learning would be minimal.
How could the school system transition back to neighborhood schools?
In 2020-2021, all incoming pre-K-5 students would be assigned to their neighborhood school. If these students have siblings currently in a school other than the neighborhood school, these families will be the ﬁrst to be given the option to move all of their children to the same (neighborhood) school.
In the absence of an overwhelming majority willing to send their child to the neighborhood school, a gradual or partial transition to the neighborhood school model may make little difference in regards to the current transportation challenges. However, in 2021-2022, all pre-K-5 students will be required to attend their neighborhood school which would help to streamline the transportation system and thus address some of the transportation issues.
State mandates and Board of Education policy related to transportation
A school district is required by New York State law to provide transportation for all students who live more than 2 miles (K-8) or 3 miles (9-12) from the school they legally attend unless the students are disabled and transportation is noted on the IEP.
GASD BOE Policy #5711 states: all students residing within the Greater Amsterdam School District boundaries shall be eligible for transportation based on the following criteria:
- All students residing outside of the City of Amsterdam and attending grades pre-kindergarten through grade 5 will be entitled to transportation
- All students residing within the city limits attending pre-kindergarten through grade 5 and living more than one (1) mile from their assigned school building shall be entitled to transportation.
- All students residing within the city limits attending grades six (6) through eight (8) and living more than one and one half (1.5) miles from their assigned school building shall be entitled to transportation.
- All students residing within the city limits attending nine (9) through twelve (12) and living more than one and one half (1.5) miles from their assigned school building shall be entitled to transportation.
- School districts receive Transportation Aid on bus purchase expenditures and operating expenditures. Expenses for operating district-owned buses, contract buses, and public service carriers and other transportation-related expenses may be approved for aid. Presently the Greater Amsterdam School District Transportation Aid ratio is 90% of all eligible expenses.
- Expenditures for operating late bus trips to transport pupils who stay late for club or athletic activities are aidable transportation expenses (with mileage stipulations above).
- The GASD Board of Education is authorized to adopt a resolution providing for student transportation in child safety zones. Transportation in such zones that exist within the limits stated above may be provided upon the determination by the Board that a hazardous zone exists.
- School law does not require school districts to provide transportation to or from a baby sitter’s residence, job location, another student’s residence or a community agency program location.
- School districts have the discretion to establish bus stops and the student may be required to walk a reasonable distance to and from these stops.
Statistics and financial information
The total Transportation budget for 2018-19 was $4,763,880 including beneﬁts (Employee beneﬁts. $239,174).
Estimated Revenue for 2018-2019 will be $3,969,564
- # of students on district operated buses. 442
- # of students on contract buses 2,766
- # of total district students transported. 3,208
- # of nonpublic students 155
- # of total district and nonpublic 3,363
- 2 Busses for PTech for 2018 – 2019: $100,982.
- CTE bus contract totaled $65.061.
Not all expenditures are aidable for transportation
- Non-allowable pupils decimal for Amsterdam is estimated at .0206.
- Examples of non-allowable pupils are: non-disabled pupils who live 1 1/2 miles or less from the school attended (unless the pupil lives within an approved, designated safety zone), and non-disabled pupils transported to public schools outside the district residence when classes are maintained by the district of residence.
- Expenditures for transportation for services provided for ﬁeld trips, athletic trips, excursions, and noon trips for lunch cannot be used to generate Transportation Aid.
Impact on transportation with the return to neighborhood schools model
The number of bus routes will be reduced signiﬁcantly with a return to neighborhood elementary schools and redistricting. Tables can be found in Appendix A. Bus routes will be reduced by 65-75% from the current numbers. Appendix A provides tables indicating the number of busses needed if:
- All PreK-1 students are bussed (regardless of 1-mile radius)
- All PreK-1 students who live .5 miles or greater are bussed
- All elementary students who live .5 miles or greater are bussed
Best practices in transportation design
Continual optimization of bus route design
The design of school bus routes is an iterative process. The goal is to load full buses while keeping the route lengths below some limit. If routes become too long, it is diﬃcult to tier routes. The locations of individual bus stops, the number of buses stops on each route, and traﬃc congestion are all factors. Software that simpliﬁes this complex procedure and determines optimal route design has been purchased and staff has been trained to undergo this process.
Recommendation: reﬁnement of routes with standard bus stops be created.
Tier bell schedules
Staggered start times permit the district to use the same vehicle and driver for multiple or consecutive runs. Currently, some busses are used to transport students to a secondary school and then to an elementary school. This same bus may be used during the day to conduct a midday kindergarten and an after-school activity run. GASD currently has staggered opening bells of its high school, middle school, and elementary schools, and tiered its bus routes.
Recommendation: study altering current start times to address eﬃciency concerns.
Continued and further cooperation with other agencies through joint transportation agreement
Currently, the GASD has a contract with STA to provide transportation to its students and also owns 18 busses to supplement student transportation. Additional joint transportation agreements need to be researched and considered. A school district may increase the use of its buses and drivers and add revenue by agreeing to transport students from a neighboring district as well as relying on their services to provide transportation to district students. Recommendation: Work with neighboring districts, BOCES and CDTA to assist with providing service.
Update: GASD is working with CDTA on an alternate plan for bussing students in grades 9-12. With the recent loss of public transportation in the City of Amsterdam, the District is also looking to coordinate efforts with Montgomery County and CDTA to provide transportation to our 9-12 students AND potentially members of the community.
Recommendations moving forward
- The GASD BOE appoints a Redistricting Administrator to oversee the redistricting processes.
- The Redistricting Administrator will chair a newly created Redistricting Advisory Committee (RAC) made up of various stakeholders who will provide direction in the following areas:
- Review and update the current Child Safety Zone designations (as per BOE Policy #5721)
- Study and update the current transportation policies to consider realigning criteria as stated in Policy #5711. This may include considerations for changing boundaries as stated in the policy, before & after daycare provisions, bussing all primary students, factoring in second runs and courtesy bussing ( courtesy bussing is deﬁned as bussing students who reside within the legal limits for bussing as described in Policy #5711.)
- Update GASD Transportation Handbook (last rendition – Fall, 2012)
- Study on automating systems: bus passes, cameras, etc.
- Redistricting Administrator named
- Public Hearing to discuss the study
- Call for members for the Redistricting Advisory Committee (RAC)
- Redistricting Advisory Committee (RAC) Introductory Meeting
- District-wide survey seeking input from the parents and community stakeholders in regards to the issues relative to redistricting our schools. A survey can obtain a sense of the number of families ready to move in year one of the plans.
- Registration begins, assigned to home school only (lottery is disbanded)
- Redistricting Advisory Committee (RAC) recommendations submitted
- Deadline for voluntary movement
- GASD Transportation handbook updated by RAC
- Bus passes delivered