Unfunded Mandates Bedevil Boards

    The reworking of an unfunded state mandate on school busing may mean a break for East Hampton taxpayers at the end of the next budget year.
    During his budget presentation at the May 3 school board meeting, Raymond Gualtieri, the district superintendent, touched on unfunded New York State school mandates — requirements made by the state above and beyond federal mandates that are also not accompanied by any monetary support.
    The subject came up when Dr. Gualtieri presented a recommendation on cooperative bids for the purchase of various school supplies.
    “New York is one of only two or three states that can only bid within the state,” said Dr. Gualtieri. “This is an unfunded mandate. We want to be able to do cooperative bidding with other states” to bring down the costs of supplies, he said.
    While on the subject of unfunded mandates, Dr. Gualtieri commented on the mandate that a bus seat must be provided for every student, regardless of whether that child actually rides the bus or not, causing long bus routes, unnecessary stops, and higher expenses for the district and the taxpayer.
    “In reality, that’s a stupid rule,” he said. “If changed, that could save the district another 7 percent.”
    As of Monday, the New York State School Boards Association released the news that the mandate has been clarified so that now districts will be able to base the numbers of buses and drivers needed on ridership rather than numbers of students.
    “I guess we whined enough,” said Dr. Gualtieri, referring to himself and other school superintendents who have been in favor of fewer empty bus seats since last year.
    What does this mean to East Hampton? Shorter, more streamlined bus routes for students, and a possible giveback to taxpayers at the end of the next school year.
    Amagansett School’s superintendent, Eleanor Tritt, is dealing with a different unfunded mandate in that district. A new state requirement for a software system to link teachers and students is on the docket. Mrs. Tritt approves of it in theory, but admitted that the realization of such an overhaul would be “expensive and time-consuming,” since the state neither offers money with the mandate nor makes any recommendation on software.
    “In effect,” said John Hossenlopp, the school board president, “we’re required to do something that doesn’t yet exist.” Board members also said that once the software is available, the price would be dear, as vendors would be aware that their products were a school requirement.    B.L.