Speaking of Lakewood Public Schools, the Asbury Park Press reports today on an uproar regarding transportation for non-public school students on Thanksgiving Day. The district hires 400 buses daily to bus 18,000 students to private Jewish day schools. In previous years the town’s yeshivas issued a waiver that gave drivers the day off on Thanksgiving (as well as Christmas Day) and parents drove their kids to school. This year there was no waiver, so the bus drivers have to work. Not to worry: School Board Attorney Michael Inzelbuch promised that he would “personally provide a pumpkin pie or dessert, at his own expense, to the bus drivers who work on Thanksgiving.”
“While this gesture will not cure the issue, it is a gesture that I feel is important in our town,” he said.
Here’s what’s worth gesturing about: Lakewood Public Schools spends 20% of its operating budget on student transportation. According to DOE data, its total operating budget for 2011-12 is $97,337,219. Of that $97 million, $19,963,098 is budgeted for Student Transportation Services.
Most districts spend no more than 5% of their operating budget on bussing. For example, another Ocean County District, Toms River, has a $200 million operating budget; it spends 11,485,387 on transportation. Brick Township, also in Ocean,has a total operating budget of 136,164,499; it spends 9,667,745 on student transportation.
Of course, every district provides transportation for all resident kids (or an annual payment of about $880 to parents in lieu of transportation), regardless of where they go to school. Lakewood just has an awfully large number of kids who go to non-public schools, and that fact seems to leak into all aspects of governance.
At the last Lakewood School Board meeting for which minutes are available – last May – a local pastor made the following public comment:
Pastor Wilson: It appears that the priority of this Board is not the public schools of Lakewood. Our students have failed to meet standards, for the last ten years. Our teachers do not receive the training nor the tools they need to do their jobs well. Our children are ill prepared to enter universities. [Board members swear to] “refuse to surrender my independent judgment to social interests and partisan political groups, or to use the school for personal gain or for the gain of friends.” What other school district has a board where the majority of members of from the non-public school sector? [B] busing is an issue that you don’t want to touch.
Another pastor came to the microphone:
Pastor Jackson – “Last year you said $14 million went to the non-public school over budget, and this year $12 million and yet you are cutting or you are firing teachers in the public school. How did that happen?”
Another member of the public, Mr. Wilson, had this to say to Mr. Inzelbuch, who runs all the Board meetings:
Michael, I like you. I have nothing personal, but I would like to see you to be the attorney of the Board and see Ms. Silva be the Superintendent and not allow herself to be controlled by certain voices that want to keep things going the same way. You need to look, you need to look at the numbers.
Yeah, look at the numbers.