AMSTERDAM, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The window on bus options continues closing in the Greater Amsterdam School District. A posted agenda for the October 12 special board meeting shows “on the recommendation of the Superintendent of Schools, Richard Ruberti, Jr., the Board of Education ceases all transportation to Child Care and Child Care Centers effective November 23, 2022.”

NEWS10 reaching out to several daycares in the Amsterdam area. The owners for Building Blocks and Lil’ Firecrackers both reacted with complete shock saying neither they nor any of their parents were aware of the board’s decision. The third, Kristian DiCaterino who co-owns Sunshine Kids Corner and Memory Lane Daycare, says he heard from the few parents who attended the October 12 meeting.

The Greater Amsterdam School District Board of Education page with a list of upcoming meetings. The October 12 special meeting is not listed. (Thursday, November 3, 2022)

“All these people that went and rearranged their schedules to find a new daycare in the zone of their school, and then you spring this on them? It’s insane and it’s not right to do that to these parents,” says DiCaterino, referring to the district’s decision before the fall semester limiting bus transportation to daycares within a specific zone around a child’s school.

“We only had daycares in two of our school zones, so we weren’t going across town for it, but the concern was if we had to take kids across the city to daycares that weren’t in their school zones, now you’re really having a dramatic impact and increasing the amount of time,” replies Superintendent Ruberti.

When NEWS10 visited district offices Thursday to ask about the bus changes, Ruberti stating the agenda and date it mentions are no longer accurate and that the board intends to review its options again at the coming meeting November 16.

“We wanted to see if our transportation resources would improve at all, so it will be something we revisit and I haven’t sent letters to parents to make it official or to make any changes as of yet,” Ruberti explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

Ruberti cites the ongoing bus driver shortage as the reason the board is looking for ways to shorten routes. He says the district lost an additional four drivers before the start of school and claims the 50 to 60 children who depend on transportation to and from daycares caused an inequitable access issue for the remaining students.

“We started seeing the number of transfer buses that we had for daycares within the district and that was causing our other buses to be late in our elementary schools, so we had to review it,” he says.

NEWS10 also reaching out to the New York Association for Pupil Transportation. Executive Director David Christopher says while he is not familiar with the specific constraints in Amsterdam, he is not surprised the district needs to adjust like many others have already.

“I would call the situation severe, certainly. All children are now in person, in school, there’s extracurricular activities going on where children are being bused to different activities and the number of candidates who are walking in the door to apply for bus driving jobs is not keeping up with demand,” Christopher explains.

“The issue with school district transportation is you don’t want to be making last-minute changes and putting parents and children in a situation to make a last-minute judgment call. The more you can plan ahead, even if that means reduction of service, the safer that is for kids,” he goes on to say.

Ruberti says the district has come up with its own efforts to fill the childcare gap. The district has contracted with Healthy Kids Programs based in Orange County to provide before school care starting at 7 a.m. and after school care until 6 p.m. in Barkley School, McNulty Academy, Currie Institute, and Tecler Elementary.

Ruberti says Healthy Kids has its own staff to run the program and costs about $185 per week for both before and after school care. He adds they have applied with the NYS Office of Children and Family Services to have the programs recognized as licensed childcare centers to qualify for subsidies and reimburse qualified families up to 70 percent of the cost.

Ruberti further adds the district has qualified for an Empire After School grant to cover free after school service for 288 kids between McNulty, Currie, and Lynch Middle School.

“We’ve done everything we can to mitigate the problems associated with [busing],” Ruberti says.

However, DiCaterino remains skeptical. With 57 school district kids combined between his two daycare businesses, they’re the largest local childcare provider. He says many families he serves need care outside the district program times and won’t be able to keep their jobs without childcare transportation.

“These are people that come in at 5:30 in the morning, 6 o’clock in the morning. Some people work in Albany. Most of these people are factory workers,” he explains. “There are kids that need places to go on days off, places to go on all the half days and superintendent’s days. The school is not going to keep them late on days like that, but the parents are still working. They’ve got to go somewhere.”

When NEWS10 checked in with Montgomery County Social Services around noon Thursday, a representative stated only the program at McNulty Academy had been approved so far for a daycare license and the state is still working to determine subsidy distribution. That representative further adding the district partnership with Healthy Kids Programs registered a service start date of October 25 and in many years on the job, they say they had never seen a scenario where a program offered service first and only later applied for licenses and subsidy.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me, and it very much feels like they’re trying to put a stranglehold on parents to use the school’s daycare, because if they don’t have enough kids in there, they can’t fund it,” DiCaterino offering his opinion on the matter.

The Montgomery County Social Services representative confirms so far only one eligible family has applied for subsidy under the new program. Superintendent Ruberti made no reference to a minimum capacity to maintain the program, only that there is room for more attendees.

“We have probably three to six kids at each building. There could be capacity for 40 or 50, but as of the official approval of that program, they’ll get DSS assistance on the cost of the program,” he says.