In a statement that shocked Lakewood residents, state monitor, Michael Azzera announced the cessation of several district provided busing services including guaranteed separate buses for boys and girls. The move came in response to the rejection of several terms offered by the state by leaders of the town’s mosdos which they said would be detrimental to their operation.
“The district will not provide courtesy busing to either public or non-public schools,” said Azzera at a school board meeting held Tuesday night. “We must do everything in our authority to save enough money to do mandatory busing.”
He went on to state that in the coming year busing will only be provided for those students living outside of the minimum radius of two miles from schools and will not accommodate multiple starting or dismissal times. Azzera’s last point was that buses could be “intermingled” and not automatically separated by single schools, noting that the practice of doing so had been a “courtesy.”
When asked by board member, Isaac Zlatkine, if that included placing boys and girls on the same bus, the monitor responded, “if it saves money.”
Azzera was appointed by the state as a monitor over the financially strapped school district in April of last year. He retains power of veto and enforcement over board decisions.
The 2016-17 budget, passed in May, fully covered mandatory busing, but left open the issue of courtesy busing for which the district lacked the necessary five million dollars to finance.
In two meetings, held in recent weeks, the State said that non-mandatory busing could be provide if schools would agree to “tier,” their starting and dismissal times with all boys schools starting at 8:30 and all girls schools at 9:30. As part of this arrangement, grades one through eight would have to have a uniform dismissal time.
Due to the multitude of operational and chinuch problems this would create, Lakewood’s Ichud Hamosdos rejected the offer in a letter sent to state officials saying “the sacrifice is too great in comparison to what we are receiving.” They also announced that the ten large schools that had been operating under a pilot tiering program since the beginning of the year would be returning to regular schedules.
In response, Azzera announced his proposals that will not only do away with busing outside of the two mile mandated radius, but that funding must now be re-examined for mandatory busing as well. The policy would affect public and non-public school students alike.
The suggestion of “mingling” students of different schools and, possibly, genders on buses is not a formal proposal, but was left as an option should it be shown to save needed funds.
“I think it’s just a threat to get us back to the table,” said the director of a prominent Lakewood mosad, who asked not to be named. “The state needs a solution even more than we do. This plan would take courtesy busing away from the public schools also. They need us to tier or else they will have a problem as well.”.