AMSTERDAM, NY (NEWS10) – The window on bus options continues to close in the Greater Amsterdam School District. A posted agenda for the Oct. 12 special board meeting states that “upon the recommendation of the Superintendent of Schools, Richard Ruberti, Jr., the school board is ceasing all transportation to child care centers and child care centers in children from November 23, 2022”.
NEWS10 is reaching out to several child care centers in the Amsterdam area. The owners of Building Blocks and Lil’ Firecrackers both reacted in complete shock saying that neither they nor any of their parents were aware of the council’s decision. The third, Kristian DiCateino, co-owner of Sunshine Kids Corner and Memory Lane Daycare, says he heard from the few parents who attended the Oct. 12 meeting.
“All those people who went to rearrange their schedules to find a new daycare center in their school area, and then you throw that at them? It’s insane and it’s not fair to do this to these parents,” DiCateino says, referring to the district’s decision before the fall semester limiting bus transportation to child care centers in a specific area around the a child’s school.
“We only had child care centers in two of our school zones so we weren’t going to cross town for that, but the problem was if we had to take kids across town to child care centers that weren’t in their school zones, now you’re really having a dramatic impact and increasing the time,” replies Superintendent Ruberti.
When NEWS10 visited district offices on Thursday to ask about bus changes, Ruberti said the agenda and date he mentions are no longer accurate and the council intends to review its options at the next meeting on November 16.
“We wanted to see if our transportation resources would improve at all, so this will be something we’ll come back to and I haven’t sent any letters to parents yet to make it official or to make any changes,” Ruberti tells Mikhaela Singleton of NEWS10. .
Ruberti cites the continued shortage of bus drivers as the reason the council is looking for ways to shorten routes. He says the district lost four additional drivers before school started and says the 50 to 60 children who rely on transportation to and from daycare centers have caused an inequitable access issue for the remaining students.
“We started seeing the number of transfer buses we had for daycare centers in the district and it was causing our other buses to be late to our elementary schools, so we had to revise it,” he says.
NEWS10 has also contacted the New York Association for Pupil Transportation. Executive director David Christopher says that while he’s unfamiliar with the specific constraints in Amsterdam, he’s not surprised the neighborhood has to adapt like many others have already.
“I would describe the situation as serious, certainly. All the children are now in person, at school, there are extracurricular activities where children are bussed to different activities and the number of candidates who come through the door to apply for bus driver jobs does not follow not demand,” says Christopher. .
“The problem with school transportation is that you don’t want to make last-minute changes and put parents and children in a situation where they have to make last-minute judgment calls. The more you can plan ahead, even if it means reduced service, the safer it is for children,” he continues.
Ruberti says the district has implemented its own efforts to fill the child care gap. The district has contracted with Orange County-based Healthy Kids Programs to provide before-school care starting at 7 a.m. and after-school care until 6 p.m. at Barkley School, La McNulty Academy, Currie Institute and Tecler Elementary.
Ruberti says Healthy Kids has its own staff to run the program and costs about $185 a week for before and after school care. He adds that they have applied to the NYS Office of Child and Family Services to have the programs recognized as licensed child care centers to receive subsidies and reimburse qualified families up to 70% Cost.
Ruberti further adds that the district qualified for an Empire After School grant to cover free after school service for 288 children between McNulty, Currie and Lynch Middle School.
“We have done everything we can to mitigate the issues related to [busing]says Ruberti.
However, DiCateino remains skeptical. With 57 children in the school district combined between its two child care businesses, they are the largest local child care provider. He says many of the families he serves need care outside of district program hours and won’t be able to keep their jobs without child care transportation.
“These are people who arrive at 5:30 in the morning, 6 in the morning. Some people work in Albany. Most of these people are factory workers,” he explains. “There are kids who need places to go on days off, places to go on half days and superintendent days. The school won’t keep them late on those days, but the parents are still working. They have to go somewhere.
When NEWS10 checked in with Montgomery County Social Services around noon Thursday, a representative said only the McNulty Academy program had been approved for a daycare license so far and the state is still working to determine the allocation of grants. This representative, further adding that the district’s partnership with Healthy Kids Programs has recorded a service start date of October 25th and for many years at work, they say they have never seen a scenario where a program offered first a service and only later applied for licenses and subsidies.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me, and I really feel like they’re trying to put a stranglehold on parents to use the school daycare, because if they don’t don’t have enough kids in there, they can’t fund it,” DiCateino offering his opinion on the matter.
The Montgomery County Social Services representative confirms that to date, only one eligible family has applied for a grant under the new program. Superintendent Ruberti made no reference to a minimum capacity to maintain the program, only that there is room for more participants.
“We probably have three to six kids in each building. There could be a capacity of 40 or 50 people, but as soon as this program is officially approved, they will receive assistance from the DSS on the cost of the program,” he says.