The end of school bus service that is not mandated by the state is on the table in the Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District.
Bus service that is provided to pupils who would not otherwise be eligible to receive such service is often referred to as courtesy busing.
During a Sept. 4 meeting of the district’s Board of Education, Superintendent of Schools John J. Marciante Jr. informed board members and the public that approximately 1,800 of the district’s 5,000 pupils could lose the courtesy bus service they currently receive.
Marciante said the district’s current policy is to provide busing for every student, but in the face of an anticipated reduction in state aid, he plans to rewrite that policy. As a result, in certain instances, students who live closer than 2 miles to the school they attend would no longer be provided with courtesy busing.
Because the Wemrock Brook School and the Manalapan Englishtown Middle School are both on Millhurst Road in Manalapan and there are no sidewalks on the street, students would not walk to those buildings, according to the superintendent.
The options for students who no longer receive courtesy busing would be to walk to and from school, to be driven to and from school, or to participate in subscription bus service at a fee to be determined by the number of students on a particular route, Marciante said.
Students who walk to and from school would do so on what are designated non-hazardous routes. Crossing guards, hired and paid for by the municipal government and not by the school district, would help children cross at certain locations, Marciante told the board.
He said employees in the transportation department are working out the specifics of the walking routes to be followed by students.
Marciante has said the district expects to lose $13 million in state funding during the next six years.
“We have a crisis situation in the budget and everything is on the table,” he said. “You can no longer think the way you did living in this community and working in this district. The board will have to make decisions between courtesy busing and other costs.”
During an hour-long discussion at the district’s headquarters in Englishtown, Marciante, who has led the district for 14 years, and board members touched on issues that will have to be dealt with as Manalapan-Englishtown faces a reduction in state aid.
Marciante said the politicians who made the recent decision to change the way New Jersey’s schools are funded believe they acted appropriately, as does the Department of Education. He said unless there is significant objection from the public, changes will not be made in the school funding bill that was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy in July.
The superintendent suggested that if the parents of the district’s 5,000 students “get up every morning and email the politicians and say, ‘fix the formula,’ something will happen.”
Board member Gerald Bruno directed his comments at state Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-Gloucester, Cumberland, Salem) and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy.
“I’m so frustrated with Sweeney and Murphy. They have ravaged our district and I want people to know who did this to us and how it’s going to affect us over the next three to five years,” Bruno said.
In conjunction with the issue of a looming reduction in state aid, board member Brian Graime spoke about the rising cost of health benefits that are provided to district employees. He does not object to providing the benefits, but said “our children’s education is being affected by health costs. At some point there is a bubble that is going to burst.”
Business Administrator Veronica Wolf said the issue of health costs in school districts is being examined at the state level.
“They have to do something to relieve the costs. It remains to be seen” what that action will be, Wolf said.
Marciante said Sweeney is looking at the issue of health costs.