HomeOperationsNew Jersey School District Ending Bus Service for 3K Students

New Jersey School District Ending Bus Service for 3K Students

More than 3,000 high school students in Monmouth County, New Jersey will lose school bus service in September because of state budget cuts on school aid.

Charles B. Sampson, the superintendent of the Freehold Regional High School District, stated that courtesy busing is removed from the 2023-2024 budget, as was approved by the school board in April.

According to state law, school districts are only required to provide free bus transportation for high school students if they live two-and-a-half miles or more from the schools they attend. Nevertheless, some districts provide free courtesy transportation for students who live closer.

“This was not an easy budget to design due to the continued devastation we face through the Senate Bill 2 (S2) funding cuts,” a press release from the district states. “While we did have a portion of the $6.7 million state aid cut deferred to the next fiscal year, the year-after-year compounding damage of S2 reductions has led us to where we are now.

Senate Bill 2, was passed in July 2018 and modifies school funding to eliminate adjustment aid and state aid growth limit. It allows adjustments to tax levy growth limitations for certain school districts.

District spokeswoman Rebecca Policastro told School Transportation News that since S2 went into effect, the district has seen its state aid slashed by about $30 million.

“That has had an impact on the budget in different ways, but this was the first time there has been a major impact on transportation,” she said. “The elimination of courtesy busing has been under consideration for several years. Discussions were initially held before the pandemic, but the district was able to hold off the change. We can no longer hold back this reduction to transportation.”

School officials stated that eliminating courtesy busing will save the district $3.5 million. The cuts will reportedly affect one-third of students in the regional district’s six high schools.

Policastro added that there will be no layoff of Freehold Regional bus drivers. “We are in the same position as many districts across the country, where we do not have enough drivers to drive the buses in our fleet,” she added. “As such, we are forced to use outside vendors. The anticipated $3.5 million in savings in the elimination of courtesy busing will come from reducing the contracted services with outside bus vendors that we utilize to cover runs.”

A statement from the district added that this wasn’t a change anyone wanted to make. “But it became a necessity to close the budget gap fueled by Senate Bill 2,” the district added. “Ultimately, this lies in the hands of state lawmakers. Since S2 was unveiled five years ago, our district administrators have repeatedly sounded the alarm that S2 would have devastating impacts in school districts across the state. Nearing $30 million in state funding cuts, it is impossible to move forward without making significant cuts in our district.

The core problem that has yet to be addressed, the district added, is what it referred to as a failed funding formula that does not meet the constitutional responsibility to ensure students in New Jersey have a thorough and efficient education.

“We are $20 million below adequacy, the state’s own number for what we need to educate our students. There is no way for us to reach adequacy under the structure that the state currently has in place,” the statement continued, adding that the number will only grow larger as there is still one more year of funding cuts left under S2.”

The district said it anticipates a $10 million shortfall for the upcoming 2024-2025 budget cycle.

“We have made cuts year after year due to S2, including 132 positions which did include administrators. Our cost per pupil is 25 percent lower than in similar districts,” noted the district.

Without the intervention from the state, next year’s budget cuts make the loss of courtesy busing small in comparison.

Sean Boyce, the district’s business administrator, said at a meeting held last week that eliminating courtesy busing will reduce bus routes by approximately 25 percent. Students from Freehold Borough will have the biggest impact in comparison to other districts.

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