[NJ_SRTS] Main Street kids will walk to Middle School this fall

Leigh Ann Von Hagen, AICP/PP lavh at rci.rutgers.edu
Fri Jul 28 11:38:03 EDT 2006


Main Street kids will walk to Middle School this fall
Friday, July 14, 2006
By HARLEY RISSMILLER
Correspondent

GREENWICH, NJ -- The Greenwich Township Board of Education has declined to
reinstate "courtesy busing" for Stewartsville Middle School students in
the Main Street section of town. This decision came despite the fact that
some board members expressed reservations about the plans to curtail the
service at its June 28 meeting.

"The reality is that we don't have the kind of money where we can say,
'You people can ride, and we can fund whatever program we want,' " said
board member Robert Lurig. "Whenever we can save money, we should do it."

State regulations require that school districts provide transportation for
students living farther than two miles from their public school. Bus
service for students who live closer than that is offered by the school
board as a "courtesy."

On June 9, the K-8 district sent out a letter to the parents of 22
students who live in the main street area, stating that the district would
no longer provide courtesy busing for those students to the Stewartsville
Middle School, located at 642 South Main Street. The reason cited by the
district for the change was the recent completion of sidewalks on South
Main Street.

Superintendent Kevin Brennan said the school has been looking toward a
gradual reduction and/or elimination of the service for many years. He
said the board has had a directive, based on state instructions, to push
toward that direction. "We annually spend a great amount of time
discussing courtesy busing and we're going with it. The board struggles to
keep it in the budget," he said. "You're in a position where you are
trying to balance the budget without charging forward and putting it all
on the taxpayer. The part of the budget that is most negotiable is
courtesy busing because it's not a mandated service."

About half of the district's 900 students are served by courtesy busing,
said Brennan. The rest of the bused students live further away than the
two-mile minimum. Only about 60 elementary students, who live directly
behind the Greenwich School, and now the students on Main Street, are
walkers.

Brennan estimated that eliminating the service completely would save the
district about $150,000 this year. That figure is a rough estimate because
some routes serve both courtesy and mandated bus riders. Brennan said that
figure would be greater in the future because transportation costs
generally rise from year to year.

North Main Street resident Barbara Hurte has two children who will now
have to make the half-mile walk to the middle school. She is "adamantly"
opposed to the change.

"I believe the elimination of courtesy busing will create unsafe
situations for my children," said Hurte, "and I am personally holding all
of you responsible for their safety and well being should courtesy busing
be eliminated in any way."

South Main Street resident Dan Perez also argued for the restoration of
the program. "We're not complaining. We just want to make sure that our
children get to school safely," he said.

"We're operating on the premise that riding on a bus guarantees a child's
safety. It doesn't," said board President Denise Valle. "You can't predict
everything that's going to happen on a bus just like you can't predict it
with walkers. It's impossible to please everyone. At some point something
has to go."

The plan is to start with students who live closest to the school,
according to Brennan. That's why there are other areas where students may
live within the two-mile cut-off, with sidewalks, but still receive the
courtesy busing. He also said the board has considered increasing the size
of the parking lot at the Greenwich School if courtesy busing is phased
out. Town engineer Mike Finelli estimated such an improvement would cost
about $500,000.

Anthony Mars, a member of the board who is opposed to the idea of not
providing transportation, proposed a resolution to restore courtesy busing
for the 22 Main Street students, but it died without a motion. Some board
members agreed with Mars, but said it isn't possible to return the route
this year. Restoring the route for Main Street students would cost about
$30,000, according to board Business Administrator Annette Edmonds.

"We would have to find the money for this somewhere and it's not in the
budget," said board member Victoria Little. She said would like to see the
board continue to explore the issue. "The layout of this town is not fit
for all kids to walk to school. Not everyone can drive their kids to
school. Although, yes, we may not have a legal obligation to ensure the
safety of these kids on their way to school, I firmly believe that we have
a moral obligation."



© 2006  Warren Reporter
© 2006 NJ.com All Rights Reserved.



-- 
Leigh Ann Von Hagen, AICP/PP
Project Manager
Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center
Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
33 Livingston Avenue, Suite 500
New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901
(p) 732-932-6812 x. 613
(f) 732-932-3714
(e) lavh at rci.rutgers.edu

Visit the New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center web site at
www.njbikeped.org



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