Jackson Weighs Options For Busing Nonpublic Students

(Photo by Quinn Peacock)

JACKSON – The number of nonpublic students bussed in Jackson is growing, and the school district is trying to figure out how to create a joint busing agreement with the state-approved authority for Lakewood.

Governor Chris Christie signed legislation that took busing nonpublic school students out of control of Lakewood Township’s board of education and allowed a private organization, known as the Lakewood Student Transportation Authority, to receive funds to transport those students.

The three-year pilot program gives LSTA $2.4 million each year to transport nonpublic students to their schools. There are nearly 30,000 nonpublic school students in Lakewood, most from the Orthodox Jewish community.

When the legislation was signed, joint busing agreements Lakewood schools had with surrounding school districts were not renewed.

“Normally, one of our options would be to go to Lakewood public school district and go into a jointure with us for this particular run. It was one of our options,” Jackson schools communications coordinator Allison Erwin said. “What we’re still waiting to find out, we’ve asked the NJ Department of Education, are we allowed to recognize the LSTA as a ‘district?’ Is it one of the districts with which we’re allowed to go into a jointure?”

Under state law, school districts are responsible to provide transportation to nonpublic school students to their schools that are 2 to 20 miles from their home. Erwin believes the state will eventually give the OK for Jackson to form joint agreements with the LSTA.

Erwin, who consulted with district business administrator Michelle Richardson, told The Jackson Times the district can accomplish this by several means: use district bus drivers to complete these routes; contract a private contractor to complete these routes; or enter a joint agreement with another district, with the bus managed by the other district.

Erwin said that if the options above cannot be accomplished within a certain cost established each year by the Department of Education, then the district must offer the students aid in lieu of transportation. That maximum amount is $884 per student.

“This means that if a district cannot offer transportation for less than $884 per student for the year, the parents or guardians of that student would be entitled to receive $884 from the district and the parent or guardian would need to arrange for their own transportation.” Erwin said. “Here in Jackson, we utilize each of these methods in order to provide transportation to resident students who attend various non-public schools (e.g. St. Aloysius, Donovan Catholic, private schools in Lakewood).”

Rise In Nonpublic Students

A private school bus sits in front of a private Jewish school on Seventh Avenue in Lakewood. (Photo by Jennifer Peacock)

This year, Jackson has 334 nonpublic school students to transport to their respective schools, costing the district $290,836. Of those 334 students, 145 get “aid in lieu of” payments from the district, totaling $128,180.

To bus its own students to its schools, Jackson spent $9.7 million in 2015-16 to transport Jackson’s nearly 9,000 students.

There was a 62 percent increase in nonpublic school students seeking transportation from the last school year, with 210 nonpublic students, of which 118 were getting “aid in lieu of” benefits. The total cost to the district last year was $171,113.

Erwin said the increase in nonpublic school student transportation will be discussed in the upcoming district budget workshops. Although she said there were no specific figures available, she knows the transportation line item will increase again for the upcoming budget year.