Yellow buses will roam the streets of Lakewood on Wednesday and Thursday, but a group representing the township’s yeshivos and girls’ schools are expecting that they will return empty, their charges instead driven by carpools in a dry run of what will happen in the fall if a budget cut is to take effect.
Faced with the daunting loss of student transportation options for the upcoming school year, Rabbi Yisroel Schenkolewski told Hamodia on Tuesday that he was taking this drastic step after con-sultations with the Roshei Yeshivah of Beth Medrash Govoha, due to the extraordinary situation of private school students from grades four to 12 losing their busing.
“What we’re doing, basically, is we are having a drill tomorrow and Thursday,” Rabbi Schenkolewski said, “just so everyone could see what this town will look like when all these parents are going to be driving their kids to school.”
The drill is only called for the two mornings, not for dismissals.
A last-minute meeting in Trenton Monday with top brass at the state Board of Education did not turn up a solution.
Yeshivos and girls’ schools will start at regular times but allowances will be made for employees who may be delayed, the LakewoodScoop.com reported. They added that Bais Medrash Govoha is relaxing their shemiras sedarim arrangement for the two mornings.
Developments began about a month ago, when the Board of Education approved the township’s budget. They agreed to keep the busing in, but a monitor appointed by the state over Lakewood nixed the $4 million allocation for courtesy busing — the first time this happened since the program began, according to Rabbi Schenkolewski.
The decision is a financial one — the state is currently dealing with a massive $800 million deficit — but it will exponentially disrupt life in Lakewood’s already gridlocked streets if it goes into effect.
“What this means,” Rabbi Schenkolewski said, “is that there will be 8,100 of our children, plus over 2,000 public school children, that next year will not have busing that they had this year.”
The plan will affect students attending private school in grades four to 12, unless they live more than 2 1/2 miles away from the school.
An additional reason for the action is to allow the township to prepare for handling thousands of cars rumbling through the streets every day, Rabbi Schenkolewski said. He was in touch with Police Chief Rob Lawson, who will have more police out in force on the two mornings.
However, Lawson made it clear that he could do this for one or two days, not on a daily basis. It is unclear how the plan would affect traffic and safety concerns in September in a town where one in six people are children.
In a letter sent home to parents on Monday, Rabbi Schenkolewski said that only dire circumstances would make him go through with the plan.
“We recognize the inconvenience that this will cause,” the letter said. “However, without bus transportation, this will be the norm unless a better solution is found. There will be obvious delays because of the traffic, however we feel that the end will justify the means — and through our hishtadlus a more viable option will come from it.”
Meanwhile, as the yeshivos respond to the busing crisis by showing what it will look like without the service, it is putting a spotlight on another issue — the crushing burden of tuition.
Lakewood’s school budget — which pays for all aspects of public school as well as limited expenditures for private school, such as busing — is funded, as in the rest of the nation, by property taxes. That means that the majority of residents who send to yeshivah pay double for education.
Lakewood, the seventh most populous town in the state, has about 60,000 residents. Of the more than 10,000 school-age children, about 60 percent attend private schools but all the property tax dollars go to pay for the 2,000 public school students.
Rabbi Schenkolewski said that some are suggesting having thousands of parents sign up for the public school system, whichspends more than double the amount that yeshivos do.
“It’s in the discussion stage,” he said. “There are a lot of ramifications to that. But right now it’s only in the discussion stage.”