JACKSON – Four newcomers have been sworn in to begin serving their terms on the Jackson School District Board of Education.
Following the November 2021 school board election, the board that oversees the operation of the school district held its 2022 reorganization meeting on Jan. 5.
Erica Osmond, Tina M. Kas and Guiseppe Palmeri were sworn in to begin serving three-year terms and Allison Barocas was sworn in to begin serving a one-year term.
Osmond, Kas, Palmeri and Barocas joined incumbent board members Michael Walsh, Tara Rivera and Scott Sargent on the panel.
During regular business, the board members elected Walsh to serve as the board’s president for 2022 and Rivera to serve as vice president.
The public comment portion of the meeting included a discussion between residents and the school district’s administration about busing for children who live in Jackson who attend non-public schools.
In certain instances, students who attend a non-public school may be entitled to transportation services provided by the public school district. District administrators may choose to provide a payment in lieu of transportation to the families of non-public school students who qualify for transportation.
The Jackson School District is currently paying $2.79 million in aid in lieu of providing transportation. There are 2,794 students receiving an aid in lieu of transportation payment ($1,000 per student) and 246 students are being transported to 142 non-public schools, according to information provided by the school district.
The mothers of several children expressed concern regarding the busing situation. They said they were not notified until August 2021 that the school district would not provide transportation for their children during the 2021-22 school year and would instead provide the $1,000 payment per child. The district’s decision to make the payment meant the parents would be responsible for their children’s transportation to and from school.
Resident Suri Robinson said her four daughters attend two non-public schools in Lakewood. She asked for notification regarding busing to be provided at an earlier date so parents would be able to secure private transportation for their children.
“In August, we tried to find public busing. All of the bus companies told me they would have been happy to help earlier on in the year, but by August there was nothing to talk about,” Robinson said.
Superintendent of Schools Nicole Pormilli said a series of circumstances led district administrators to decide that for the 2021-22 school year, Jackson would not provide busing to non-public schools and would provide the aid if lieu of transportation payments to families whose children attend non-public schools.
Pormilli said a shortage in school bus drivers “crept up on us unexpectedly, and as you know it is national a driver shortage. Additionally, we were challenged with the fact that we have not had a director in our transportation department for a year.
“We have since hired an interim director who is doing an excellent job and will be able to better guide us this year. So we are committed to keeping lines of communication open.
“I can imagine how difficult it is to have to worry about your children getting to school. I can understand that as a parent myself and I empathize with you on that. So we will continue to strive to communicate as soon as we possibly can,” the superintendent said.
Board Secretary Michelle Richardson said the parents of non-public school students must complete certain forms by March 15 and said the state requires district administrators to notify parents about the status of busing by Aug. 1.
Sargent said he would like to serve on the Transportation Committee and said, “In reference to the timing of when the district can do the busing issue, I truly feel like by April 1 we should be able to have it done. I think it would be fair to the (non-public school) busing community to be prepared.
“(Parents of non-public school students) cannot secure busing for their students if we wait until Aug. 1. I understand what the law is, but Aug. 1 is just not going to cut it for Jackson and that is not just for one group, that is for all the groups in Jackson,” Sargent said.
“We probably need to farm the whole busing out. The aid in lieu (of transportation payment), in my limited opinion, is not working.
“In reference to when I see small vans pulling out of small developments going 60 and 70 mph with students … Regardless of whether (those vehicles) belong to the Jackson School District or to any other school district, they are still students and I think these van drivers are very difficult to monitor and keep up with, whereas a big school bus might be a little bit easier,” Sargent said.
“I would say we need to give the Jackson School District a chance this year to try and make it work,” he said, adding he has faith in Pormilli to address the issues the parents raised about non-public school busing.
Pormilli said the April notification date Sargent suggested “might be a little tight.” She said a more realistic date for notification to the parents of non-public school students about the provision of busing service, or a lack thereof, for the 2022-23 school year might be May.