Schumer: LI school bus costs driven up by Sandy

Sen. Charles Schumer has called for a federal task force to reimburse Long Island school districts that have spent more than a $1 million from their own budgets to transport displaced students. Videojournalist: Jessica Rotkiewicz (April 8, 2013)

More than a dozen school districts on Long Island's South Shore have spent a total of at least $2.3 million to provide extra busing for students displaced from their homes by superstorm Sandy, a survey by Sen. Charles Schumer's office has found.

About 1,000 students initially were displaced after Sandy struck Oct. 29, though most have since returned home, according to the survey. Results were released Monday by Schumer, who is pushing for federal reimbursement of the busing costs.

Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at a news conference that local school districts "shouldn't be left responsible for the costs of a national disaster."

To underline the storm's impact, the senator met Monday with 20 fourth- and fifth-graders at Harding Avenue Elementary School in Lindenhurst, with the students picked at random by administrators. Harding, which is located about six blocks from Great South Bay, serves neighborhoods where houses were inundated by up to 3 feet of saltwater.

Schumer asked the students how many had been forced from their homes initially. Ten hands went up. The senator then asked how many are still displaced. Two students raised their hands.

One of them, Sarah Klein, 11, said she still is living at a grandmother's house in Farmingdale with her father, mother and two pets -- a rabbit and a very frisky Labrador puppy. A pet hamster recently died, she added.

The fifth-grader, who used to live a two-minute drive from the Harding school, has a daily one-hour round-trip. The family's Lindenhurst house is undergoing repairs that should be completed within a month or so, according to Sarah's father, Daryl Klein, a postal worker.

"It's devastating, but it's getting better," Sarah Klein told a reporter.

Under law, school districts must provide busing up to 50 miles for displaced students. Part of the cost -- typically, 50 percent or 60 percent -- is reimbursed by state aid.

The Lindenhurst district, for example, estimated that it has spent $400,000 for unanticipated busing so far, and continues to spend about $20,000 a month. The district expects 61 percent of those costs to be reimbursed by the state -- but not until next year.

On Monday, Schumer released a letter that he recently sent to Shaun Donovan, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, asking for speedy release of federal block-grant money to help districts with unanticipated bus costs.

Aaron Jacobs, spokesman for a Sandy Rebuilding Task Force headed by Donovan, said the group was exploring "all available options" for reimbursing districts.

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