U.F. considers alternatives to costly courtesy busing

Constructing sidewalks, charging parents among options


Upper Freehold Township is trying to find less expensive means of getting some students to school safely.

Courtesy busing for Upper Freehold students who live less than two miles from school but do not have a safe walking route will cost township taxpayers about $100,000 in 2010, according to Mayor Steve Alexander.

“This is a giant bill for us,” Alexander said, noting that the cost amounts to 1 cent of the municipal tax rate.

Municipal taxes are used to bus 412 students living along several walking routes that the school district has deemed hazardous due to the absence of sidewalks. 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.

“Our municipal budget was difficult in 2009 and we expect it to be more difficult in 2010,” Alexander said.

Alexander said a committee comprised of town officials, board members and residents met to discuss alternatives to courtesy busing. He said the township could construct sidewalks to connect some of the housing developments to the school campus on High Street in Allentown. He said sidewalks could make the routes from Galloping Brook, Heritage Green and Winchester Estates safe for students to walk. He said sidewalks at the Grande at Old York would not be an option at this time due to budget constraints that would not allow for improving the hazardous intersection at Ellisdale Road and Main Street. Alexander also noted that Allentown would have to consent to installing sidewalks along Main Street and any other hazardous walking routes through the borough.

Alexander said the township could easily connect Winchester Estates and Heritage Green to the campus with the school district’s consent to construct sidewalks around the sports fields and into the high school parking lot.

The mayor said the township does not want to make a capital investment in the sidewalk construction if students will not use them. He suggested residents of the developments provide the township or school district with their input on the issue, as officials would like to know who may or may not use the sidewalks.

Board of Education member Patricia Hogan said, “Chances are elementary school parents will not let their children walk to school.”

The mayor said the township would have to decide if young students should still be bused if sidewalks are constructed.

Instead of constructing sidewalks, the township could decide to charge parents for courtesy busing, Alexander said.

Superintendent of Schools Dick Fitzpatrick said that 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, 412 students were bused 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.

Middle school students will no longer attend school on the High Street campus once their new school opens in Sept. 2010. There will not be any sidewalks that lead to the new building off Route 524 and the district will bus all middle school-aged students to school starting in the fall.

Alexander said that he would recommend the township budget for courtesy busing again in 2010, but review alternatives before the next budget cycle.

“We want to start bringing this issue out to the public to gauge community concerns,” he said.

The Board of Education received a letter from 11 residents of Galloping Brook stating their concerns about the possible elimination of courtesy busing. The letter stated that eliminating the buses would cause more students to walk through dangerous intersections in downtown Allentown. The letter also wrote that sidewalks would be dangerous because they are potential places for bullying, sexual harassment and criminal activities.

Fitzpatrick noted that sidewalks from the adjacent developments to the campus could be lit and attended by a paraprofessional with a walkie-talkie. He also said that the campus may need more speed bumps if the township constructs any sidewalks that lead into the parking lot.