Four families learned this summer that their children would no longer be picked up by a school bus, thanks to a recent discovery that they live—just barely—within a one-mile radius of the Springs School.
Springs School Superintendent Michael Hartner said this week that in mapping out this fall’s bus routes, the head bus driver, David Baird, noticed that four families whose children had historically taken the bus lived inside the mile limit. Mr. Baird called the families and explained the situation, prompting two fathers to protest at a Springs School Board meeting on August 10.
“Leave the bus in, the way it was for 25 years,” said Patrick Brabant of Glade Road, three of whose children, ages 6 to 12, would have to walk from Glade Road to Woodbine Drive, then cross Springs-Fireplace Road, to get to school. There is a sidewalk on which they could walk on the east side only of Springs-Fireplace Road.
“Thirty-four percent of the whole Town of East Hampton lives in Springs,” Mr. Brabant said. “That’s a lot of people driving down these roads.” He said that if he and his neighbors drove their children to school it would only make the situation worse.
Richard Bono, also of Glade Road, asked the School Board to take a look at traffic on Springs-Fireplace. His family lives 0.9 mile away from the school, so his 10-year-old, Jason, would have to walk or be dropped off.
“I feel like we should have the bus service,” Jason’s mother, Diane Bono, said on Friday. She grew up on Glade Road and was able to walk through the woods to get to school, but they have since been developed into house lots.
Kristen Brabant, Patrick Brabant’s wife, said she would at least like to see a crossing guard helping the children get across Springs-Fireplace Road.
The Bonos and Brabants plan to petition the state to designate the area as a child safety zone so that their children can continue to have bus service. “Very objective” criteria such as the maximum speed posted and the number of cars traveling the road are factored into such designations, Mr. Hartner said, and the designation would allow the district to provide bus service to children living in the safety zone within the one-mile limit. Three of the families losing bus service live on Glade Road and the fourth lives on Springs-Fireplace Road, Mr. Hartner said, and most live about 0.8 mile away from the school.
The superintendent pointed out that when the 2011-2012 school budget was aired this spring, there were taxpayers who argued against providing bus service within two miles of the school, which is the minimum service the state will allow for children from kindergarten through eighth grade. “Having had to justify not expanding it to two miles,” he said, it’s going to be difficult to justify busing children who live less than one mile away.
Mr. Baird, the head bus driver, was among those weighing in at the School Board meeting on the relative merits of propane and diesel-fueled school buses. The district plans to buy a new bus as part of a long-term replacement program, and Peter Hayes of the Bluebird Bus Company of Port Washington, which sells school buses, gave a presentation on August 10, as did Jack O’Loughlin of Bay Gas of Shirley, which would provide the propane if the district chose that option.
Propane buses cost about $6,000 more than diesel buses, Mr. Hayes told the board, but save in fuel expenses because propane costs less than diesel. Mr. Baird estimated that the district would save about $1,500 in the first year on fuel alone, which would be supplemented by savings in maintenance, “because the fuel burns so much cleaner.” Mr. O’Loughlin told the board that his own trucks run on propane and that he would install a fueling tank free of charge.
“It’s been a tough sell on the island,” Mr. Hayes said of propane buses, although the Riverhead School District recently bought two of them.
“In a sense, we’re being pioneers for you,” Mr. Hartner told Mr. Hayes, suggesting that he offer a discount since he’ll be able to sell more buses if Springs decides to buy one.
Mr. Hayes said yes, he would.