Hundreds of city students attending the Passaic County Technical Institute will not be receiving transportation from the Paterson Public Schools in the next school year due to the elimination of the courtesy busing program.
491 students attending the Passaic County Technical Institute and 199 within district will have to find a different mode of transportation next school year. In all, 690 students will no longer receive busing as a result of the district’s elimination of the program due to recent budget cuts.
Terry Corallo, spokeswoman for the Paterson Public Schools, said the district is adhering to state law and school board policies which set guidelines for busing: 2.5 miles for high and 2 miles for elementary school students. The district will continue to provide busing for 1,100 city students who attend the Passaic County Technical Institute and meet the 2.5-mile eligibility requirement, she said.
In this case, the district was providing transportation to students who lived less than 2.5 miles from their schools. State-appointed district superintendent Donnie Evans in the past has explained this was due to safety concerns of some students having to walk through crime-ridden neighborhoods to get to their schools.
Evans eliminated the courtesy busing program last month to close an almost $42 million gap in the district budget. The elimination of the courtesy busing program produced $930,000 in savings for the district, said officials at the time. As part of the budget cuts, the district eliminated 208 positions, including 96 teachers.
“This is a result of the gross underfunding of our school district,” said school board president Christopher Irving on Monday afternoon when asked about the hundreds of students who will no longer receive transportation. “The district doesn’t have the money. It just doesn’t. Providing transportation to them was a courtesy. We can no longer afford to exercise that courtesy. I feel horrible about it. I really do.”
The elimination of courtesy busing for students also raises safety questions. Irving said the Passaic County Technical Institute should address the safety concerns for its students. Students without transportation will have to walk up a steep slope via a sidewalk-less stretch of Preakness Avenue to get to the high school in Wayne.
Diana Lobosco, superintendent of the Passaic County Technical Institute, did not respond to a message seeking her input for this report on Tuesday morning.
“These are the things that happen when people are not paying attention,” said school board Jonathan Hodges. He urged parents and community members to attend budget meetings to voice their opposition to the cuts, he said. However, even if parents attended the meetings, the impact of the elimination of the courtesy busing program was not fully disclosed at the budget meetings.
Both Irving and Hodges said the district had to cut crucial programs to close this year’s budget gap.
Although the district has sent out letters to parents of impacted students last week, school board members said they have not received many phone calls. Some expect angry phone calls from parents in the summer months just prior to the start of the 2017-18 school year.