Michael Hoban was an educator for 48 years, teaching at the elementary, high school and university levels. He was a university professor of mathematics for 35 years, is a Professor Emeritus at the City University of NY, and has lived in Lakewood for 14 years. Prof. Hoban is the senior educational consultant to Lakewood U.N.I.T.E., the group that advocates for minority families in Lakewood. This post originally appeared in the Asbury Park Press.
A June 20 column by Randy Bergmann, Asbury Park Press editorial page editor, commented on the staggering cost of transporting the private schoolchildren in Lakewood to the more than 100 private schools along 1,600 bus routes.
Here is one paragraph from the column: “Perhaps most eye-popping was the staggering growth in the numbers being bused and the growing cost to the public school district to do so. In 2012, about 18,500 students were transported to the Orthodox private schools, with a school transportation budget of $19.5 million. Today, 32,000 students are bused to 130 Orthodox schools, with a transportation budget of $29 million.”
This situation is going to get a lot worse if some action is not taken by the state Department of Education very quickly.
Here are some statistics (for 2015) gathered by my colleague Bruce Rollier through an OPRA request to Trenton. It is obvious from this data that the growth suggested by the editorial is only the beginning of a far-reaching problem.
• The birth rate (births per 1,000 population) in Lakewood is nearly five times that of any of the surrounding towns.
• The number of Lakewood births is 63 percent of all the births in Ocean County, even though it has only 20 percent of the population.
• The number of births is 4.4 percent of the births in all of New Jersey, with only 1.1 percent of the population.
• Each succeeding grade in the private schools has more students than the one a year older.
• The kindergartners are about three times as numerous as the graduating seniors. The kindergartners were 12 percent of the total; seniors only 4 percent.
The 2010 census said that the average age in Lakewood was 23 (even with all the seniors counted) while the average age for the state was 41.
With the high birth rates, the total private school population will continue to grow rapidly, and the public schools will have a dwindling share of the total students. Given this reality, there will be an increasing number of private schools, an increasing number of school buses out there twice a day, and an increasing strain on the public school budgets (not to mention the effect on the already inadequate roads).
But is the township paying any attention to this growing problem, which drains needed resources from the public schoolchildren? Apparently not. It appears that no one is minding the store — depriving the public schoolchildren of their right to a thorough and efficient education.
The state must take over the Lakewood Board of Education immediately.
As the June 20 oped pointed out: “If the reluctance on the part of the township and Orthodox leadership (to make changes) continues, Gov. Phil Murphy and the Legislature must impose changes to keep busing costs under control, as well as the cost to the state to bail out the public school district with loans it will never be able to repay.”
The oped then outlined six practical steps that should be taken in an attempt to control the run-away cost of such transportation. Whether the state will take any steps to alleviate this growing crisis remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, given this relatively new and completely unique situation in Lakewood, people are beginning to come to grips with a “new reality.” And that is that the state must separate out mandated “non-educational costs” (such as busing) from the school aid formula if districts such as Lakewood are to receive sufficient funds to truly educate the students in the public schools.
To be fair, it is reasonable to say that when school aid formulas were created in the past, no one could have foreseen the unusual situation that exists in Lakewood at the present time. But new realities call for new (and creative) thinking on the part of the legislators and the Department of Education. The big question: Is Trenton capable of this sort of creative thinking?