Emotions rise over magnet school busing
A New Milford father reacted with anger recently after the Board of Education voted, 4-3, over parents' vehement objections to centralize bus stops for those children who attend the Danbury magnet school.
"So it was that easy to do," cried out Sergio Liguori. "This is ridiculous.''
Mr. Liguori's third-grade son, Luka, is one of 17 New Milford students enrolled at the Western Connecticut Academy for International Studies in Danbury.
Mr. Liguori, who then continued to berate board members for taking away the bus transportation his son relies on so he can attend the magnet school, was incredulous that the board would create such a hurdle for families to save $26,000, a small fraction of the school district's $57 million budget, he said.
He said the school board would rather spend $83,000 on security cameras than invest in children's education.
Mr. Liguori's outburst prompted board chairwoman Wendy Faulenbach to call a five-minute recess.
As parents departed, Luka's mother, Kristen Drda, who earlier in the meeting was one of five parents to speak against centralized bus stops in the northern and southern end of towns, offered a final retort.
She asked board members to look at her son's teary face.
"You just broke your promise to my child,'' Drda proclaimed.
Superintendent of Schools JeanAnn Paddyfote said the district does not have a legal obligation to provide busing to an out-of-town magnet school.
In 2006, however, Supt. Paddyfote said the board became a partner in the Danbury magnet school and as part of that agreement offered bus transportation for participating students.
To date, Supt. Paddyfote said, the magnet school students have been picked up at their neighborhood bus stops or child care centers and taken to Danbury.
Some parents have complained, even halted participation, over concern about lengthy bus rides, she said.
All-Star Transportation recently suggested the district consider centralized bus stops similar to Brookfield, which has one centralized site for 33 students, Supt. Paddyfote said.
The projected cost savings for this move would be about $26,000, she said.
One father with two children enrolled, J.T. Schemm, a New Milford High School physics teacher, said this decision is less about transportation than it is about offering local families a chance for children to attend a school with racial, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity.
Without neighborhood pickup, Mr. Schemm said, it would not be feasible for some families to enroll.
"This is a rash decision,'' Mr. Schemm said.
At least three board members agreed, despite the cost savings, that the transportation precedent should be maintained.
Board member Rod Weinberg said the parents' appeal had convinced him, since the transportation dollars are now in the budget, that they should remain.
Board member Lynette Rigdon said she always is seeking cost savings, but she would be more open to making a change for new families who pursue this educational option.
"I don't want to compromise those already enrolled,'' she said.
Board member William Wellman also voted against the centralized stops.
The majority, though, felt this move makes economic sense.
New Milford provides a "phenomenal'' in-district education with bus transportation, said board member Dan Nichols, who added if families opt to go elsewhere, a centralized bus location would be appropriate.
"We're still offering the choice,'' board member Thomas McSherry said.