Lakewood’s No-Bus Drill a ‘Success,’ Organizers Say

LAKEWOOD -

Shortly after the second day of the two-day drill, during which Lakewood parents drove their children to yeshivah rather than send them with public busing, caused widespread traffic in some parts of the township, officials in the education department in Trenton sent a message to the organizers — Let’s talk.

“They’re ready to work with us,” Rabbi Yisroel Schenkolewski told Hamodia on Thursday. “To what extent is still up in the air.”

Fearing the outcome of New Jersey’s announced cut of student transportation, parents on Wednesday and Thursday allowed the courtesy buses to pass their regular stops in a bid to show what the state’s seventh largest township would look like without public busing.

Rabbi Schenkolewski, who heads the Iggud Hayeshivos, an umbrella group which consulted with the Roshei Yeshivah before taking the unprecedented exercise, said that the community’s unity sent a stronger message than weeks of negotiations.

“It was a success,” he declared. “They see that we united a whole community together to follow us, which is a big thing for them. They saw that not one kid went onto the bus.”

In a statement released several hours after Thursday’s drill concluded, Rabbi Moshe Zev Weisberg, head of the Lakewood Community Busing Task Force, thanked parents for participating and declared it successful.

“Participation was near-universal,” Rabbi Weisberg said, “and the test drill seems to be an accurate preview of what traffic might look like in the fall if busing cuts are not [revoked].”

The statement said that eyewitness reports, items on TheLakewoodScoop.com and the traffic reporting service WAZE, “indicate an average of 20 to 40 minutes of additional delays due to the extra congestion caused by the additional carpooling.”

There was a loss of 30 minutes to an hour of classroom instruction due to the late arrival of many students, the statement said.

Glenn Forney, the budget manager for the state’s Department of Education, and David Corsoez, the department’s assistant commissioner for administration and finance, contacted the Iggud through a third party and indicated they are looking into ways of continuing the $4 million courtesy busing program beyond its scheduled end in September.

The cuts affect only students from grades four to 12 who live less than 2 1/2 miles from school.

On Wednesday, hundreds of parents tried to beat the gridlock by setting out at 9:00 a.m. About half the students arrived late. On Thursday, following an appeal for parents to show how traffic would look like if all students came on time, the congestion was concentrated on the half-hour time period between 8:30 and 9 o’clock.

“The traffic today was much heavier than yesterday,” Rabbi Schenkolewski said on Thursday. “They know you can’t run a school with half the school coming late every day.”

In the statement, Rabbi Weisberg said that it was “unsustainable” to have a repeat of the past two days on permanent basis.

“At least in Lakewood’s case,” he wrote, “the term ‘Courtesy Busing’ is a total mislabeling of the crucial service that is vital to the safety of Lakewood’s children and necessary to keep traffic flowing in an orderly manner. As such, an immediate effective solution must be found.”