Courtesy buses getting too costly for U.F.

Town to review situation with BOE and to consider sidewalks


Courtesy busing for Upper Freehold Township students living less than two miles from school will cost over $80,000 in municipal taxes this year.

The Upper Freehold Regional Board of Education has designated several walking routes as hazardous, due to the absence of sufficient sidewalk space. These routes include Old York Road, Route 526, Route 539, Ellisdale Road, the Grande at Old York development, the Heritage Green development, the Winchester Estates development and the Galloping Brook development. Both Heritage Green and Winchester Estates are adjacent to the school campus, but there are no sidewalks connecting them. Children in neighboring Allentown walk to school.

At the Aug. 20 Upper Freehold Township Committee meeting, Township Attorney Granville Michael Magee said he does not know of any other municipality that pays for courtesy busing, since such costs are generally borne by boards of education. Committee members do not know why municipal taxes, instead of school taxes, are paying the busing fee. Mayor Steve Alexander said he does not think anyone serving on the current Township Committee or Board of Education was in office when the practice began.

Township Administrator Barbara Bascom said she has never seen an agreement between the township and the board stating that the township would pay for courtesy busing.

Alexander wants to know how the board defines hazardous, and whether it simply means lacking sidewalks. Magee said that placing sidewalks along Sharon Station Road, which many residents consider unsafe, could be making that route safe for students to walk according to the board’s criteria.

Bascom said that building sidewalks was part of an agreement the township had with K. Hovnanian, the developer of Heritage Green. However, the developer never constructed the sidewalks due to the possible construction of the westerly bypass.

Alexander said the township could install sidewalks to Main Street in Allentown, but the borough would have to consent to the sidewalks.

“We only have control over Galloping Brook and Winchester Estates,” he said. “The rest require Allentown involvement.”

Alexander said that Winchester Estates children should be walking to school. Deputy Mayor Stan Moslowski Jr. said there is a 60-foot easement along Route 539 where a sidewalk could go if Monmouth County allowed its construction.

“It’s cheaper in the long run to put sidewalks in,” he said.

Alexander said that the children living in the areas with hazardous routes, as identified by the board, need courtesy busing at this time, but said the committee would discuss the issue and possible alternatives with the board.

Superintendent of Schools Dick Fitzpatrick said that Director of Transportation Lynnette Foulk provided him with the history of courtesy busing, which he prefers to call safety busing. He said the school district started courtesy busing during the 1997-98 school year, and initially bused 150 students at a total cost to the municipality of $10,952.

During the 2007-08 school year, the last year for which Foulk had complete courtesy busing data, 412 students were provided with courtesy busing at a cost of $83,699. The cost for Allentown High School students amounted to $11,843. The cost for middle school students was $18,631. The cost for elementary school students amounted to $49,037 and the cost for pre-K students was $4,188.

The cost of courtesy busing per student in grades K- 12 is $144.43, while the cost per pre-K student is $136.26. Fitzpatrick said there is also a contract for a special courtesy bus for 41 elementary school students, which costs $734.56 per student annually.

Fitzpatrick noted that hiring a crossing guard for some intersections may cost as much as busing for certain schools. However, in the case of Galloping Brook, a 50- foot sidewalk that links the development to Lakeview Drive could eliminate the need for one bus, he said.