Board must choose lane of travel in busing issue

Hundreds of Sayreville families were shocked and angered last spring when they learned courtesy busing would not be funded this year. They pleaded with the Board of Education and even went to the Borough Council to have it restored, but it was too late. The board had taken the item out of the budget and placed it in a special question. When the question was rejected, the board could not legally fund the busing this year.

Now, as school officials begin work on the 2007-08 school budget, the parents’ concerns and pleas, heard over the course of many packed-room meetings last spring and summer, still resonate.

But despite their frustration, the school board could not be blamed. Faced with limited funding and the need to control the ever-increasing school tax rate, the board had to make tough decisions. It debated the busing issue at public meetings and, instead of cutting the $300,000 item altogether, opted to leave it to the voters.

And though the voters made their choice, in a 2,019 to 1,350 decision, it became clear in the months after the question’s defeat that many people weren’t aware of the issue until it was too late. The great majority of residents don’t vote in school elections, and despite newspaper reports on the issue, some of these parents were among the many who surely didn’t realize what was at stake.

This year brings a new opportunity, albeit probably with the same difficult budget situation. But the board is in a better position to make the call on courtesy busing, based on the feedback received earlier this year, more current input from residents, an evaluation of how the new system is working, and the latest budgetary figures.

While some are suggesting the board hold another ballot question on the busing issue, the board should make the funding decision itself, and either include it in the general budget or leave it out. Board members should be the most informed and the most in touch with the district’s needs and residents’ views, and they were elected to make these decisions.

In the meantime, it’s up to residents to help steer the board in the appropriate direction.