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Smithtown school officials drop controversial busing plan

Meredith Haberfield, a third grade student at St.

Meredith Haberfield, a third grade student at St. Patrick School in Smithtown, holds a sign objecting to a centralized busing proposal, Wednesday. (March 24, 2010) Photo Credit: James A. Escher

Smithtown school officials Wednesday scrapped a plan to centralize the bus system for students who attend private and parochial high schools, a plan that had met a loud outcry from parents.

The plan, which the Smithtown Central School District said would have saved more than $273,000, aimed to bus students to a central location, then on to their respective schools. Currently, buses take students directly to school from their homes.

Hundreds of parents, including many who brought their children along, filled a district auditorium last night to voice their displeasure.

But before they had a chance to speak, District Superintendent Ed Ehmann announced the plan had been canceled. He was met with a standing ovation.

"Your bus transportation will remain the same as it is this year," he told parents, some greeting the news by hugging each other.

They had complained that the change would have led to much longer commutes for their children - problems for families with working parents or multiple siblings in school.

"I would [have to] stay home from work most days," said Roseann Conforti, who has two children in parochial school. "It creates a multitude of problems."

Explaining the decision to scrap the plan, the superintendent said that private school students would have borne a larger burden for the budget deficit than public school students.

"Transportation has been a very hot topic, but it's only one area . . . that was being scrutinized by our administration and our board of education to reduce costs," he said. "Never was there any attempt to disrupt the community."

Parents interviewed last night were elated.

"I'm very glad they listened," said Dorinda Haberfield, who has two children in St. Patrick's School on East Main Street in Smithtown. "There are things they could do that don't impact any Smithtown student."

Bill Lalor, a father of three parochial school students, said the outcome was a lesson for parents and children both.

"It shows that if people get together, they can accomplish things," Lalor said.

Ehmann paused the meeting after the announcement to let parochial school families leave. District officials then resumed their work, considering cuts to the teaching staff, athletics and transportation budgets in an effort to save $4 million.

With Matthew Chayes


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