This morning I got a call from Lakewood Public Schools attorney Michael Inzelbuch. He asked that I clarify an article in the Asbury Park Press, since corrected, that discusses how a Shared Services agreement between the Township and the district fell apart. The original deal said that the Township would take over the duties of the now-defunct Lakewood Transportation Student Authority (LTSA), which ended the year $3 million in the red despite parents of non-public students paying $150/child. But Mayor Ray Coles, while still agreeing that the Township will provide the district with more than $1 million for courtesy busing for 2,900 public school students, backed out of the rest of the agreement, expressing concern about several items including free trash pick-up, repairing roads, taking responsible for all debt incurred, and, if the district ended up in litigation with the Township, covering Inzelbuch’s legal fees of $475/hour.
From the Board resolution: “the Board shall have the absolute right (in addition to counsel selected by the Township) to select counsel and experts, if needed, with the expense of same to be exclusively borne by the Township.”
Inzelbuch wants me to reiterate that the Township had already agreed to fix the streets — the Mayor, he said, promised Chris Christie that this would occur — that garbage is garbage, whether it’s public or private, and that everyone should want safe sidewalks.
So let’s talk about transportation. In 2016 the State Legislature created a pilot program that established LTSA as an entity in charge of busing over 30,000 non-public students to yeshivas. LSTA was given a budget of about $21 million (which wasn’t enough: More on that below). Gov. Phil Murphy included in his most recent proposed budget $30 million for Lakewood, about 15 percent of the total increase for the state’s 677 other operating school districts. The Legislature removed that increase; Senate President Steve Sweeney expressed concern that the number seemed arbitrary. But no worries: Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet replaced the money with a $36 million “loan” (that Lakewood can’t possibly pay it back. Current “loans” from the State total $100 million.)
Voila! The district had the money and the Township’s staff would replace LTSA.
Until yesterday when the Township backed out.
So where does this leave Lakewood Public Schools students, both public and private?
The Lakewood Scoop lists two options: One, the district can provide transportation vouchers to non-public students. Two, the district can hire the ultra-Orthodox men who ran LTSA (the chief made $150K/year) to run busing for yeshiva students. Stay tuned.
Two other Lakewood tidbits:
- Posted currently on the district homepage is this: “2017-2018 School Performance Report for each school, since only the District’s Report was posted on a Blog, leaving out vital information; such as the section of the report that states that the school met or exceeded the standard, as set by the New Jersey Department of Education.”
This is a reference to my blog post re: the dismal performance of Lakewood district students. Glad everyone’s reading! (I’ll address the district’s response in a separate post.)
- I have another concern about Lakewood’s transportation woes related to student academic growth and inequities incurred when one group is privileged over another. This is speculation but it seems to me that the hours that the district middle and high school are in session benefit yeshiva students and hurt public students. The Center for Disease Control website says this: “The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later to give students the opportunity to get the amount of sleep they need, but most American adolescents start school too early.”
- But opening bell for Lakewood’s middle and high schools is 7:00 am and school is dismissed at 1:30. Such early hours — some Lakewood adolescents are up before dawn — can result, says the CDC, in poor school performance.
So why does the Lakewood Board of Education set such student-unfriendly hours? Most likely because (putting on my dusty BOE hat here) districts save money when they can tier busing, i.e., use a bus for more than one route. Yeshivas tend to begin their days about 9 am. If the district can get public students to and from school early enough for the bus to run a second route, this lowers transportation costs even when you factor in Lakewood’s costly custom of busing non-public students in gender-specific, yeshiva-specific buses that make 10,153 stops per day, sometimes for just one student. (An old joke: A Jewish man is stuck on a desert island for years. Finally he’s spotted by a passing ship. When the rescuers arrive they ask him, “why did you build two synagogues?” He answers, “The one on the right is the one I go to. The other is the one I wouldn’t set foot in.” Yeshivas can work that way too.)
So, once again, the district prioritizes the non-public students’ needs above district middle and high school students. Anyone who has teenagers knows that at 7 am they can’t keep their eyes open, let alone attend to their studies. While there are a variety of factors that explain Lakewood’spoor proficiency rates, pre-dawn wake-ups could very well be in the mix. But, hey, the yeshivas are happy. Why worry?