2012-02-01 / Features

School Board 30 Seeks School Bus Variance Program

BY RICHARD GENTILVISO

Community District Education Council 30 (CDEC 30) has jumped on the bandwagon in support of a resolution to create a “Safety Hazard Advisory Review Program (SHARP)” for school bus variances proposed by Queens Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) member Dmytro Fedkowskyj.

“I think this is a positive step to take,” CDEC 30 Co-President Isaac Carmignani said after CDEC 30, meeting at P.S. 228, East Elmhurst on January 19, approved a resolution backing Fedkowskyj.

“[SHARP] will create a committee including a Community Education Council member to raise issues with the city concerning variances,” CDEC 30 Co-President Jeff Guyton said.

A resolution to establish a standard operating procedure for the review of hazard variance applications was introduced at the January 18 PEP meeting by Fedkowskyj. It recommends that the Schools Chancellor authorize the city Department of Education (DOE) Office of Pupil Transportation to implement SHARP and establish school district advisory committees by May 2012 with a primary function being to establish clear and concise criteria for granting hazard variances.

At the start of the 2010 school year, the Department of Education eliminated almost 4,600 school bus variances for 7th and 8th grade students citywide. Although most of the variances were in Staten Island, Queens was affected as well. In Woodside, parent protests centered on the loss of “hazard variances” involving bus transportation for students that cross potentially dangerous intersections to get to school.

At the time, September 2010, Fedkowskyj said, “Yellow bus service has been provided since the beginning of time in these affected parts of Queens and nothing has changed to warrant any kind of discontinued service. The needed access and hazard variances are necessary to safely transport students to and from school.”

Just 18 of 397 applications by public schools in Queens for school bus variance applications, or five percent, were approved by the DOE for the period January 2010 through Sept. 16, 2011. Thirty-four percent (24 of 71) applications by private schools were approved.

The criteria to grant a hazard variance would be modeled after a state education law that establishes Child Safety Zones. Under those provisions, a list comprised of identifiable road hazards would be established, with each road assigned a point value. In addition, any lack of adequate public transportation would be allotted points.

In order to grant a pupil transportation hazard variance, a clearly defined total score would have to be achieved. Also, each grade level would require a specific number of points to meet the eligibility requirements for a hazard variance.

SHARP committees would be comprised of nine representatives: three Community Education Council members; one District Superintendent; three DOE representatives from the Office of Pupil Transportation; one DOE Office of Parent and Community Engagement representative, and one Borough President designee.

SHARP committees are to meet two times a year in September and February and the application process for hazard variances is to be advertised by DOE, the Office of Pupil Transportation and individual schools in June of the preceding year.

The PEP resolution was tabled until February 9 but Fedkowskyj said he is “hopeful” DOE will take action on it before then.

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