Chancellor Dennis Walcott
NYC Department of Education
Tweed Courthouse
52 Chambers Street
New York, NY 10007

Dear Chancellor Walcott:

As we embark on the new school year, we write to you in regards to an urgent and very real problem with which Staten Island parents have been dealing for much of the past year. The decision of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York City Department of Education to eliminate a variance allowing 7th and 8th Graders to utilize school bus service has put the children of our borough in significant danger. We believe we have a revenue-neutral solution that would assist those most at risk by this proposal.

Staten Island is unique among the five boroughs in terms of both geography and infrastructure. We are, in reality, a suburb. Staten Island is less densely populated than the rest of the city and contains fewer schools, which results in a relatively large number of our borough’s children being forced to travel a long distance to and from school everyday.

Staten Island also has the most limited access to public transportation in the city, with only 20 local buses and one train line made available to us. This forces students to walk a number of blocks before they make it to the nearest MTA bus stop, through dangerous intersections and along streets that sometimes lack sidewalks and contain blind turns. Furthermore, Staten Island has significantly less traffic lights and crossing signals. Add the fact that the borough contains a disproportionately high number of automobiles, and it makes for a very dangerous situation.

The danger became a reality earlier this year when Aniya Williams, a 7th Grader who had just finished her last day of school for the year, was struck by a tractor-trailer and killed while running after a New York City bus. With her tragic death, it has become abundantly clear that we need to get more students onto school buses and off the streets. We have tried a number of ways to accomplish this task.

In September of 2010, Councilman Vincent Ignizio filed a lawsuit against the New York City Department of Education, challenging their decision to remove 7th and 8th Graders from school bus service. The court ruled in the councilman’s favor, finding that the Department of Education acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in eliminating the variance. Unfortunately, this decision was reversed by the Appellate Division.

In the State Legislature, the entire delegation signed onto legislation introduced by Senator Lanza and Assemblyman Cusick which would mandate that the New York City Department of Education administer school bus service to all students, including 7th and 8th Graders, who live outside the requisite proximity to their school. This bill has been passed in the Senate and is currently being reviewed by the Assembly Committee on Education.

This brings us to our current course of action. Presently, the NYC Office of Pupil Transportation denies transportation to students who are ineligible under the city’s current policy, despite the existence of many empty seats on the buses. It is unreasonable that New York City is already paying for buses to drive full routes while transporting a mere portion of those who desire school bus service. We propose that variances be issued to those students who need to cross a road of four lanes or more to reach the closest MTA bus stop.

Such variances will improve the safety of children like Vincent Dipalo, a 9-year old 4th grade student who attends Public School 42R. Vincent’s access to the nearest MTA bus stop requires him to navigate an 11-lane intersection at Drumgoole Road West and Arthur Kill Road. This intersection has a very high volume or motor vehicles. The hazardous vehicle volume is increased exponentially with the presence of a highway entrance within 200 feet. This entrance serves as a major pathway to the Outerbridge Crossing.

We ask that you strongly consider our recommendation, as we believe it is a feasible method of increasing school bus service in a fair and revenue-neutral manner. This amendment would address not only 7th and 8th Graders, but also younger students who are denied school bus service due to proximity to their school.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter. As the new school year commences, we hope that we can provide the parents of Staten Island schoolchildren with some peace of mind.

Very truly yours,

Nicole Malliotakis, Michael G. Grimm, James P. Molinaro, Diane J. Savino, Louis R. Tobacco, James S. Oddo, Vincent M. Ignizio, Deborah Rose, Sam Pirozzolo