Busing cut draws ire of private school users

St. Bart’s, Solomon Schechter students lose courtesy busing


EAST BRUNSWICK — Parents and administrators from local private schools told the Board of Education last week that they are upset with a decision to cut courtesy busing routes to their schools.

They argued the bus routes to St. Bartholomew School and Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley, both on Ryders Lane, are needed because without them students will have to walk to schools amid possibly dangerous conditions.

School officials said the cuts are not being made to save money in the budget, but to comply with state regulations.

“This is not about money. It is about following regulations required of us by the state regarding courtesy busing,” Patricia LaDuca, coordinator of community relations and programs, told Greater Media Newspapers.

Parents said the school district recently informed them that the routes were canceled, and that they had been calling to complain before showing up to raise their concerns at the Aug. 13 board meeting.

Under New Jersey law, if a student lives less than two miles from a school, the local school district does not have to provide busing, unless the route is considered hazardous, a determination made in conjunction with the local police department.

While it may surprise some to learn that public school districts provide busing for students who do not go to public schools, Ruth Mazzarella, principal of St. Bartholomew, said parents who send their children to private schools place no burden on the public district, but do pay taxes to it.

After the meeting, she said the East Brunswick district created a precedent by busing children for many years.

Debra Rabb, a parent, said she tried talking to school administrators, but claimed they were “dismissive” and unhelpful, which is why parents decided to attend the board meeting. She said it seems like the decision to cut routes for private schools and change bus stops is “discriminatory.” The audience applauded loudly after her comments.

LaDuca said the matter simply boils down to following state law, which applies to both public and private school students, and has nothing to do with discrimination or money.

Another parent, Joan Kirbos, said her 9- year-old daughter would have to walk along Dutch Road, which has no sidewalks, as well as Milltown Road, to get to school. She described Dutch Road as being a “freeway” in the morning. She said she was told by the police department that the hazardous designation applies only to students who attend public schools.

Howard Rosenblatt, head of the Solomon Schechter Day School, said busing has been denied to those who used it previously.

“I think we are all shocked at the sudden change,” he said.

Rosenblatt said there are many dangerous intersections near both schools, and asked why the district is breaking with the precedent of providing busing. He said the majority of his students would now be without busing.

“There is something going on that does not seem to match the remarks being made,” he said.

Another parent, Pat Lee, said the school district is asking that her children navigate six lanes of traffic while crossing Cranbury Road.

Mazzarella said students at St. Bartholomew need to be in school by 7:30 a.m., and it is unrealistic to expect students to walk two miles and arrive by that time. In the winter, she said, students would have to start walking while it is still dark outside.

She also raised the concern that parents of students in her school would become so upset about the busing situation that they decide to enroll their kids in public schools. This, she noted, would cost the public district thousands of dollars more each year.

Superintendent of Schools Jo Ann Magistro said at the meeting that she would like some time to get more information about those affected, and to meet with staff, then report back to the board. She asked parents to give her time to look at the routes and the applicable laws.

School Business Administrator Bernardo Giuliana said the district would look at issues such as time of day, and the need for crossing guards.

On Tuesday, the district released the following statement:

“Parents of non-public school students brought to the board’s attention last week their concern over the district’s transportation notices which were issued on July 18, 2008. The district is working to ensure that the district provides services in accordance with state statute, while ensuring the safety of all students regardless of whether they attend public or non-public schools. The district will ensure that hazardous transportation is provided for all students where it is required.”