Courtesy Alex Malecki, Kennedy Catholic High School
ALBANY MEETING—State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos assures Father Mark Vaillancourt, president of John F. Kennedy Catholic High School in Somers, and Warren Lucas, a school trustee and alumnus, that the Senate will not change the state transportation law, specifically the 15-mile busing radius for nonpublic students.
Representatives of a state Senator’s citizens’ advisory council on parochial busing, including a contingent of Catholic school administrators, educators, students and parents, recently boarded a bus and traveled north from Kennedy Catholic High School in Somers to the state capital in Albany carrying precious cargo: a strategy to preserve the current 15-mile busing radius for nonpublic students from a potential measure that could reduce it to five miles.
Advocating on behalf of fair busing practices April 18 in Albany were more than 40 members of state Sen. Greg Ball’s Citizens Advisory Council on Parochial Busing, including the council’s co-chair, Father Mark Vaillancourt, president and principal of Kennedy Catholic.
The citizens’ advisory council anticipates recommendations by the state’s Mandate Relief Council to the governor in the current legislative session, which concludes June 21.
The citizens’ advisory council members met in mid-April with state Sens. Elizabeth Little and Jack Martins of the Mandate Relief Council as well as with the Education Committee Chair, state Sen. John Flanagan, to convey their concerns regarding the busing situation.
According to Kennedy Catholic High School, the most ringing endorsement came from Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who guaranteed there would be no change to state Education Law Section 3635 and the current busing maximum of 15 miles.
Kennedy Catholic currently draws students from 18 districts. Similarly, the Academy of Good Counsel in White Plains, represented on the trip to Albany by Sisters of the Divine Compassion Laura Donovan and Carol Peterson, principal and former principal, respectively, buses students from 19 of 34 districts.
“Any reduction of the current mandated busing mileages strikes at the very lifeblood of our schools,” Father Vaillancourt said in addressing the senators.
“We are asking your support to ensure that our taxpaying parents aren’t doubly burdened by either having to pay for the transportation to which they are presently entitled, or relinquishing their right to school choice altogether.”
In a written statement distributed at the meetings, the Archdiocese of New York stated that it stands firmly behind its schools and the citizens’ advisory council in the fight to preserve existing nonpublic transportation limits for Catholic school students.
“Catholic schools like Kennedy Catholic High School in Somers serve students who reside in many districts,” said the archdiocesan superintendent of schools, Dr. Timothy McNiff, in the statement.
“The 188 elementary schools, eight special education schools and 50 high schools throughout the Archdiocese of New York rely on state mandated transportation to bring a quality, faith-based education to their students each day,” he said. “We oppose any reduction of the existing 15-mile limit.”
In addition to Kennedy Catholic in Somers and the Academy of Good Counsel in White Plains, schools represented by the parents of the citizens’ advisory council include: the Hackley School, Tarrytown; St. Augustine, Ossining; St. James, Carmel; St. Patrick, Bedford; St. Patrick, Yorktown; St. Theresa, Briarcliff; and Transfiguration, Elmsford.
As the Catholic and private school parents increase the circulation of lobby letters and e-mails to key legislators through their grassroots efforts to ensure the wheels on nonpublic student busing go around for their children, the citizens’ advisory council also plans to continue its advocacy on behalf of the educational advancement of the youngsters.
Information: kennedycatholic.org/advisorycouncil or (914) 232-5061, ext. 134.