LACEY – Bussing for students attending two private schools was eliminated earlier this year and that has left their parents surprised and scrambling to find a replacement service.
“This will impact our family so much. As a two-parent full time working household it’s challenging,” township parent Danielle Manis told The Southern Ocean Times.
Manis was among the parents who received a letter from Lacey School District Transportation Coordinator Maria Valiante informing them that bussing for Lacey students attending the Lighthouse Christian Academy and Saint Mary’s Academy – both in Manahawkin – would cease.
Now parents would fall under a program called aid in lieu and will receive $1,000 per child to cover transportation costs. Payments would come in January and July.
“We will then need to find transportation or utilize the after or before care at the school. I personally feel like I am always having to advocate for my three private school children. Transportation has been a big one – all the other busses in town pick up at the children’s homes – our bus had one stop at the Catholic church,” Manis added.
Manis said, “I understand private school is a choice – but our children should have the same rights and options as our public-school students.”
School districts are required by state law to cover transportation costs for out of district students and a number of school districts across the state are facing the same challenge as Lacey.
Parent Kimberlee Zimmermann also shared her story with The Southern Ocean Times, “my son is very gifted and needed more than what public school could offer him and we knew that very early on. My son also is very smart when it comes to religion and he truly grasps the concept and really enjoys it. We chose St. Mary’s over St Joseph’s because it was more modern, smaller classes and like a family.”
She added, “if we had our bus taken away, I would have to transport my one child to and from (school) every day. Our family is self-employed and need to be close to our businesses for different reasons. We own the laundromat in town and I recently opened the wash and fold and often have to be present to fix a machine or help a customer.”
“My child’s father also owns several commercial and residential properties in Lacey that we pay taxes on as well as our home. We do without a lot to pay his tuition; we receive no grant money at all. We send our son there because he’s bright and needs the challenge. If he was in a public classroom, he would probably be the kid left to himself and bored because he completed his work and then getting into trouble because he’s acting up,” Zimmermann said.
She noted, “this would cost us wear and tear on our car, the amount of gas we would use to go up and down the Parkway … the time away from my business would greatly affect my income. My child deserves an education that is right for him and the transportation to that should be provided. Just like with children that have special needs and get transported to out of district schools. My child happens to fall the other way and should be afforded the same.”
Zimmermann said this parent spoke with Valiante of the transportation department and was told that in order for a bus to go from Lacey to St. Mary’s, “we needed 37 students and we have 26, but enrollment just started I just sent my packet in today. This letter is deterring families from signing up now and causing our enrollment that was up this year to now go back down which is not right at all.
“We are active members in our community raising money, supporting the town, voting and ensuring our son is a well-rounded child. All we are saying is that one bus should be provided to send our children to St Mary’s and Christian lighthouse. How can they make this decision when enrollment just started and it appears they were sending it out just as it opened up and it is going to deter parents from signing up. It’s just not right,” she added.
Jackson Township is among the school systems in Ocean County facing transporation problems. School officials there are seeking bids for bussing for their growing pupil population primarily attending Orthodox Jewish schools in Lakewood Township.
Like Lacey, Jackson’s School Transportation Department can no longer accommodate the growing number of students who required transfer to schools outside of the township.
Those impacted receive aid in lieu but parents noted they were given little time after filing required paperwork, to find licensed van drivers or organize car pools.
Jackson parents called for the Board of Education as well as the mayor and Township Council to find a solution. They asked them to strongly consider outsourcing as a means of providing a more uniform and safe approach to getting their children to school.