Chancellor Dennis Walcott
NYC Department of Education
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
Legislators call on agency to put their chips on the table in the public eye
Senator Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island) and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-C, 60th District) recently announced that they are sponsoring legislation calling for an independent audit of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA)’s finances. The pair highlighted developments in recent years that have led to the need for light to be shed on the way that the MTA spends taxpayer money.
“The MTA consistently deals with a deficit of its own creation and consistently comes to the taxpayers of this state with their hands out,” said Senator Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island). “They create mess after mess and then pass the buck onto taxpayers by hiking fares and cutting services. The MTA’s finances should be independently examined to seek greater efficiencies and cut expenses, just like the rest of us have had to do in our own households and businesses.”
“By decreasing services while increasing fares and tolls, the MTA has demonstrated that their problems stem not from a lack of revenue, but from mismanagement and inefficiency,” said Malliotakis. “Even with additional funding from the disastrous MTA Payroll Tax, driver’s license and registration fees, taxes on car rentals and a litany of other charges, the 60th Assembly District has seen eight bus lines either scaled back or completely eliminated. An independent audit of the MTA’s finances would allow the public to see how their money is being spent, while enabling state government to pinpoint the waste and inefficiency that has allowed the agency’s spending to spiral out of control.”
Lanza is sponsoring Senate Bill 4637, while Malliotakis is sponsoring the Assembly companion, 7856.
Legislators join local organizations for Town Hall forum on railway reconstruction
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R,C-East Shore) and Councilman James Oddo (R,C,I,WF-Mid-Island) are joining The Dongan Hills United Civic Association, The Grant City Civic Association and several transportation representatives for a Town Hall meeting to discuss maintenance and reconstruction on the Staten Island Railway. Members of the public are encouraged to attend.
Grant City Civic Association president Elena Brady stated, “Our civic is happy to have representatives from the railway come speak to us about their plans for stations at Grant City, Dongan Hills, and other locations along the line. This is an opportunity for us to voice our concerns about the maintenance and service that is being provided.”
“With the railway under new management, we are hopeful that we can work together to get things done. The Mid-Island community is extremely thankful that they have made time to speak with us,” added Jerry Ruggiero, president of the Dongan Hills United Civic Association.
“This is a unique opportunity for commuters to speak directly with those who oversee the Staten Island Railway and receive information on the construction projects that will affect their daily commute,” said Malliotakis. “It is important that the community attend because the MTA needs to hear their precise concerns in order to make the requisite improvements. No one knows better than the riders.”
Councilman Oddo added, “I urge those who live near or utilize the Staten Island Railway to attend this meeting and bring your concerns or issues directly to those who operate and manage the system. I appreciate the members of the Grant City and the Dongan Hills United Civic Association and Assemblywoman Malliotakis for putting this meeting together.”
The meeting will take place at 7:30 PM on Tuesday, May 10 at the Edward Esposito Community Center, St. Christopher’s Church, located at 136 Midland Avenue. Also slated to participate are:
* Stepfone Montgomery – Vice President and Operating Officer of the Staten Island Railway,
* Melissa Farley – Assistant Director of Government and Community Relations of the New York City Transit Authority, and
* Superintendents from the departments of Infrastructure, Train Car Maintenance, Track Maintenance, MTA Police and Railway Engineers.
The public and members of the media are welcome to attend. For more information, please call (718) 987-0197.