By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO December 16, 2003 Monticello School District parents want to know why their children are not being picked up at their homes any longer.
The Monticello School Board feels theyve explained it thoroughly, and the new policy works just fine.
However, several parents have attended school board meetings, written letters and made phone calls, trying to convince school officials Martin Gershowitz (head of transportation), Gladys Baxter (business manager), Assistant Superintendent Robert Falcone, Superintendent Eileen Casey or most of the Monticello Board of Education to return to the former bus stop system.
Board members Robert Stewart and Eugene Nesin have been the only board members to support the return of the old bus routes.
The parents feel the new pickups are a safety hazard, saying they are accidents waiting to happen. Children as young as eight must walk up to a mile back and forth to the new stops in conditions deemed unsafe by parents and bus drivers alike.
One of the contested bus stops is located where Route 17B meets Plank Road at the bottom of a hill in Mongaup Valley. It has been the scene of many accidents over the years, according to residents.
"There isnt a house on the street that hasnt had an accident there," said Richard Oberst, a resident of Plank Road for 28 years.
That very day, several pieces of a car lay on the side of a road, where an accident occurred two hours earlier.
Oberst said he was worried about a car or truck skidding off the road and hitting the children who gather in the morning on the side of the busy road to wait for the bus. Oberst pointed to a nearby stump of a tree that was cut after being run into by a car.
In the winter, when the road freezes, "cars cant stop," he said. Obersts own four-wheel-drive truck was once sent sliding about a quarter of a mile down to the nearby gas station after he couldnt stop on the ice.
Gershowitz, Casey, Baxter and most of the board consider Plank Road too small for a bus. June Lombardi, another Plank Road resident, has challenged this contention. She said there are many roads that buses traverse in the district which are smaller and more dangerous than Plank, including Gail and Royce Road.
Baxter had previously said that the bus stopped going down Plank Road because a property was purchased at the end of Plank Road, and the new owner would not allow the bus to turn around there any longer. McDonald and Oberst dispute that claim, and Baxter did not mention this reason at the school board meeting on December 11.
Baxter and other board members had also said that buses could no longer turn around (i.e., backing out of a driveway) due to safety reasons. This explanation was not given at the last meeting, and several parents, including Lombardi, have noted that many other buses are still turning around in the district.
A day care center operating out of High Street in Monticello no longer is greeted by a bus. Leslie Hernandez has been writing letters to Superintendent Casey and Gershowitz to bring back the bus stop. She said she has received no response.
Hernandez added that the bus driver agreed that it was not safe for the four children, ages five through nine, who board the bus from her house to walk down the road each morning and afternoon. With no sidewalk, the children have very little room to separate themselves from the road and the bus. This has become an even greater concern due to the winter weather conditions, she said.
Two years ago, on the same road, said Hernandez, a child was killed by a bus.
She called Gershowitzs attitude toward her to be "snotty and irate."
However, at the school board meeting on December 11, Gershowitz made a nearly 40-minute presentation about bus service, including the stoppage of service to the aforementioned routes. He said the number one criteria for determining routes was safety. Gershowitz added that there was very little time in bus scheduling for the bus stops being requested.
"I feel for these people, but this is a business," he stated.
When asked to comment after his presentation, he said he had no time, that he was sick and needed to leave right away.
"Im not going to get into it now. I have no response to anything at this time," he said.
He spent the next 45 minutes speaking with another citizen.
Earlier, June Lombardi appeared in front of the board of education for at least the third time to ask for a "compromise." She said that she took the advice of Board President Richard Feller and asked Lynden Lilley, current highway superintendent of Bethel, to contact Gershowitz.
Lilley told Lombardi that the response of Gershowitz was that "there is nothing a highway superintendent can do" and ended the phone call. Gershowitz later responded that he didnt know who Lilley was.
Fellers response was that "the board has reached a position. . . . You werent pleased with the response."
He suggested that the Town of Bethel contact Gershowitz once again and arrange a meeting, although he added, "I dont know what the town can do for you."
Lombardi estimates the fuel cost for a bus to travel the one mile down her road to be $240 a year, at the most. She told the board, "I am willing to write you a check."
When Feller said that the road was in poor shape, Lombardi asked why a special needs bus still can come down Plank Road.
Feller responded, "I dont want to labor this too long. . . . This conversation is done."
He added that Lombardi could file an appeal with State Commissioner of Education Richard Mills.
Hernandez also described her dilemma at High Street to the Monticello board. Board member Nesin wanted Gershowitz to respond. Feller refused, saying Gershowitz could do so during his presentation.
"I dont want to have a back and forth," said Feller.
Hernandez also noted that there used to be four stops on the whole stretch of High Street until they took away her stop. Recently, a family moved, leaving only two stops. Hernandez wanted to know why they cant replace the old stop with hers.
Gershowitz would later respond that there were three stops, even after a couple members of the board asked him to repeat that, since the only way there could be three stops would be if a new one was added which isnt the case.
Feller told Hernandez that the board will look into the matter, but after Hernandez left, he changed his mind.
Superintendent Casey said, "It doesnt make any sense to go over this again and again. This is not a new concept."
The matter was then dropped.
Meanwhile, board member Stewart pleaded with the board to return the bus stop. He said New York State law mandates that students who live more than 4/10 of a mile from the pickup point must be transported.
Stewart added that the school doesnt have to use large buses on Plank Road if the problem is the width of the road. Stewart was repeatedly shot down by others on the board.
Nesin joined Stewart in saying, "The issue is these are elementary kids."
Feller cut him off and said, "No, these are older kids."
Back in October, Nesin and Stewart introduced resolutions to bring back the bus service to Plank Road, High Street, Creamery Road, and Sylvan Road in Rock Hill but were defeated by board members Jacob Billig, Feller, Vivian Liff, Robert Rosengard, Alyce Van Etten, and John Pavese.
Nesin said he voted to bring back the service "for the accommodation of the children, especially because they are primary school children. It is a safety issue."
Rosengard and Liff both said that the parents needed to take more responsibility.
Rosengard said, "Boards do the best they can."
Board member Susan Horton added, "There are safety issues and parental responsibilities. . . . You have to follow the recommendations of the the administration. . . . I had to let professionals make the decision."
Asst. Supt. Falcone refused to comment when contacted by the Democrat. John Pavese also declined, saying he has missed quite a few of the meetings.
President Feller said there were sections of Plank Road that have no shoulders.
"A lot of work needs to be done. It is up to the Town of Bethel to improve it, he explained. The transportation department has made a decision, and thats the decision. The business official and the board reviewed it."