HOWELL – The bus stops here…now!
That is what parents were told a short time before the new school year began and the news was not welcome to some of them. While the new school year has been in session for a few weeks, several parents in township neighborhoods are still not happy with a new directive involving new bus stop locations. Several parents shared their concerns at a recent school board meeting.
Board President Mark Bonjavanni redirected those concerns to Assistant Superintendent for business administration Ronald Sanasac.
Bonjavanni did stress that each case is being examined on an individual basis and that some changes had been made before the school year started.
The new bus stop plan came from two years of discussion and planning according to Bonjavanni. He told parents during the meeting that safety was the primary interest of the board but some parents expressed concern that their children were relocated to a location that was not as safe as their previous stop.
The board president explained that “according to New Jersey School Boards, Howell is the only district that has (work) committees comprised of three Board Members, and also three “citizen” members.”
Bonjavanni said the citizen members are “not elected; they are community members who requested to serve, and each year we place three members on the committees. Recommendations that come from a committee come from more than just Board members.”
He added that the plan had “gone through a great deal of discussion. Committees make recommendations; the final vote is up to the Board as a whole,” Bonjavanni said.
“The public has ample opportunity to participate in discussions,” Bonjavanni added. The bus route conversation began at least 2.5 years ago at the committee level. Reports from the committee were given at each Board meeting,” Bonjavanni said.
Bonjavanni said that during the Sept. 4 meeting that a number of questions came from the public. He informed parents that “each site would be looked at individually, and that if we felt changes were warranted, we would address the changes. Since then, a few changes were made, after thoughtful and considerate examination.”
Parents present at the Sept. 4 meeting discussed their children having to cross through sections of Route 9 and the corner of White and Conover streets where there are no sidewalks and no lighting.
Another issue was the school bus being able to access a gate in one neighborhood which was the reason given for a bus stop change.
Board member Cristy Mangano said she spoke to several concerned parents from the Verdana development off Route 9 near Sunnyside Road and went to inspect the conditions there.
Mangano noted that there was a long gate present there and that it was a long walk and a fire zone in the area.
Parents noted that in the weeks ahead, students would be dropped off by the bus in the dark and that some parents would be walking their kids to the bus stop in the dark.
Insufficient information provided to parents was an issue of concern for Board member Ira Thor who said during the meeting that he had voted against it. Thor expressed the need for issues like the bus stop change to gain further public awareness and to be publicized more.
Mangano advocated for moving the stops in the interests of safety. She suggested her fellow board members visit the bus stop at the Verdana development.
She brought up the observations of parents who had voiced their complaints listing glass, garbage and poor lighting in the vicinity of the bus stop.
Bonjavanni said the Board “did not, and still do not, look at the original stop assigned, at the corner of Conover and White streets, as a dangerous corner or walk. In fact, after changes were made, we still have that as a stop, as there is a student who lives on Conover. The high school students from the Regional also use this stop.”
“What was originally missed, though, was the thought that as many, I might say most, parents, drive their children to stops, this meant having to leave the development, turn onto Rout 9, and then turn again onto White.
We recognized the issues that this might cause. The change from the stop of years ago was made because of the difficulty busses have had with entering Verdana,” Bonjavanni said.
Bonjavanni said “gates that were closed at night, sometimes blocked, turns,
contributed to our original share. After we heard from the community, we
went back to Verdana management, and they entered into a cooperation with us.
They even removed a pillar that hindered bus turns.”
“Each stop has been looked at with safety as a priority, and each has been reviewed to make sure that we are comfortable with all of the current stops,” Bonjavanni said.