MW hires two bus companies to restore bus service for Hasidic families
CENTRAL VALLEY – The Monroe-Woodbury School District has recruited two new bus companies to transport hundreds of children attending Hasidic schools after struggling to restore service amid a nationwide shortage of bus drivers school.
The buses began rolling Oct. 22 and 26 on a temporary basis, formalized last week with the school board’s approval of 30-day contracts with Darkei Yosher and EMESS Transportation. This emergency clearance allowed service to begin while the district takes the required bidding steps before signing full contracts.
The growing Hasidic community in Monroe-Woodbury had gone weeks without bus service after another contractor halted work in September following a flood of complaints from parents, mostly about their children having to spend too much time time on the buses.
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The two new contractors, both smallholders in business for two years or less, have enough vehicles to serve some, but not all, Hasidic families in the district, whose children would need 25 buses, said Superintendent Patrick Cahill. deputy of Monroe-Woodbury. for business and management services.
The two companies had 20 buses in total — 18 for EMESS and two for Darkei Yosher — when their fleets were last inspected by the state Department of Transportation, according to state records.
The bus rush reflects Monroe-Woodbury’s increasingly complex task of busing Hasidic children from its territory to 18 locations for three different school systems in and around Kiryas Joel. According to state data, about 1,300 children living in the district attended the United Talmudic Academy, Sheri Torah and Bnei Yoel last year.
Jacob Ferencz, a former Sheri Torah administrator who helped advocate for a bus solution on behalf of parents and all three school systems, said Wednesday that the issues predate this school year and have continued to one bus contractor to another – both seemingly overwhelmed.
“Five-year-olds used to sit on the bus for an hour and a half,” he recalls.
Parents’ frustration was compounded by a language barrier because no dispatcher or driver could speak Yiddish, Ferencz said. Parents bombarded the district with complaints and eventually signed a petition to demand better buses, as state law requires districts to provide for children attending religious or private schools within 15 miles of their homes.
Ferencz said the new service has eased the complaints, and he praised Cahill and Monroe-Woodbury Superintendent Elsie Rodriguez for their work in resolving the issue.
The district agreed to reimburse parents for transportation costs they incurred when no bus was available. Some parents who could not drive their children to and from school hired taxis or car services.
The number of children needing transport from Monroe-Woodbury to non-public schools has increased in recent years as more Hasidic families have settled outside of Kiryas Joel in both neighborhoods older and in two developments still under construction – Woodbury Villas and Smith Farm.
The nearby school district of Washingtonville, which has seen a large influx of Hasidic families, particularly in the village of South Blooming Grove, is also grappling with transportation complaints from this growing community. Nearly 600 Washingtonville children were enrolled in the three Hasidic school systems since last year.
An advocacy group sued Washingtonville in July, demanding the district provide 20-day buses this year when Hasidic schools are open but public schools are closed. An Albany state judge issued a temporary order that month in favor of the group, the United Jewish Community of Blooming Grove. Do you want conversation? Yes. How’s it going? I say it’s excellent, it’s hot.
Washingtonville’s bus contractor, Orange County Transit, is the same company Monroe-Woodbury used for transportation to Hasidic schools for part of September in what Cahill described as “a rocky start.” Another company, Student Bus Co., handled those routes last year but passed them on to Orange County Transit due to parental dissatisfaction, Cahill said.
Student Bus continues to provide buses for Monroe-Woodbury children attending other religious and private schools, such as John S. Burke Catholic High School in Goshen.