Lakewood, NJ – The Lakewood Board of Education held a special meeting last night at the Lakewood High School Auditorium. The purpose of this specially convened meeting – which was attended by about 2,000 people – was to discuss the recently failed referendum on courtesy bussing and the next steps toward a solution to the current transportation crisis.
Guest speakers included the district auditor, the board counsel and the district’s transportation consultant.
As previously reported on Matzav, Lakewood Township officials conceded that they aren’t prepared for the chaos looming later this month when some 10,000 schoolchildren lose their busing.
The school district has mailed letters home informing parents that courtesy busing – busing for elementary school students who live within two miles of their schools and high school students who live 2-½ miles from their schools – will end effective February 26.
With just 15 days to go before the busing ends, the board held a meeting to discuss the matter. Private and public school parents turned out to express their frustration and to hear by school district officials.
Parents are concerned about the safety of their children walking to school. 7,100 proivate school students will be left without busing. On the public school side, over 2,700 students won’t have busing.
At the meeting last night, school officials said that there is virtually no possibility for the busing cut to be halted. The officials explained the nature of the budget deficit and explained that by the end of the current school year, the Lakewood school district will have a deficit of over $12 million due to a flaw in the state funding formula.
The State of New Jersey provides each school district with school funding. The amount is based on the wealth of the community. The state isn’t inclined to greatly fund a rich township with high property taxes and a large tax revenue. A poor district with a low tax revenue and many students will receive a much larger amount from the state.
The glaring problem is that nonpublic school children are not counted in the state formula. They are invisible, leaving the impression that Lakewood is a wealthy town with a relatively small number of students. And this leads to inadequate state aid, which, in turn, yields an ever-growing school district debt. This point was made last night by board auditor Dieter Lerch, who stated that while Lakewood should really get over $10 million in aid from Trenton, the township receives a paltry $3,600,000.
Officials said that over the past 36 months, transportation aid from the state has gone up by less than 2 percent, while the number of students who qualify for busing has rising 34 percent.
Marc H. Zitomer, the school board attorney, told the large audience, “The state has turned its back on Lakewood by failing to recognize Lakewood’s unique circumstances. We do not have a fiscal mismanagement problem. We simply don’t receive enough state funding to meet our needs.”
A petition was passed around for parents to sign to call on Trenton to give Lakewood its fair share of funding.
Former Lakewood school board attorney Michael Inzelbuch, one of the most knowledgeable experts in the state when it comes to matters of education, announced that he will be suing the state of New Jersey for reneging on an agreement brokered last year between the district’s schools, both public and private, as well as the school board and the township.
For two years, after Lakewood fell into a deficit of some $5 million, the state appointed a monitor, Michael Azzara, to oversee Lakewood’s pecuniary situation. Despite Azzara’s presence, Lakewood’s deficit is now double what it previously was. The obvious reason is the aforementioned flaw in the state funding formula, to which the state continues to turn a blind eye.
By D. Patelnick for Matzav.com