Taxpayers urged to speak out on transportation issue

Taxpayers urged to speak out on transportation issue

Siblings Michael and Riley Little get ready to board the bus at Our Lady of Hope School, Blackwood. When Michael heads to high school in the fall, the family will depend on three different buses.

The Little family has a big need for reliable bus transportation. In the coming school year, their children will attend three different schools in the Diocese of Camden: Our Lady of Hope Regional School in Blackwood, Paul VI High School in Haddonfield, and Camden Catholic High School in Cherry Hill. Mom Tricia works in Wilmington, Delaware, and Dad Kevin covers an expansive territory — from Monmouth to Cape May counties — working for the state.

“We can’t drop off and pick up. We can’t be three places at once and get to our jobs,” said Tricia, noting that without their jobs they would not be able to afford Catholic school tuition.

She recalled the one year their bus route to Our Lady of Hope was canceled, just before the start of the school year. The family scrambled for a solution and nearly moved to public school, where bus transportation is never at risk.

“We love Catholic school and didn’t want to pull our children out,” she said. The answer was to hire a niece to do the driving — a decision that required the Little children to leave school 15 minutes early every day so Tricia’s niece would be on time for her afternoon job. Another student, whose mother did not drive, joined the Little’s family carpool so she could stay at Our Lady of Hope.

The state provides limited transportation funding for nonpublic school students. To be eligible, a student must live in a district that buses public school students within stated mileage guidelines. Busing for nonpublic school students is arranged through the district or private bus contractors. In many cases, district bus routes are not finalized until August. Sometimes routes get dropped, prompting schools to brainstorm with families to come up with alternative plans.

“Cost is a huge challenge,” said Camden Catholic principal Heather Crisci. “If we put a route out to bid, especially late in the summer, the cost is often very high.”

Adding to the challenge for 2018-19 is a proposed rollback of state funds from $1,000 to $884 per eligible student — an amount that does not nearly cover the cost of transportation, leaving parents or the school to cover the balance or forego busing. Funding had been increased for the 2017-18 school year for the first time in seven years.

At Resurrection Catholic School (Cherry Hill) Molly Webb spent the summer of 2016 arranging bus transportation when one of the school’s two remaining routes was canceled. As incoming principal with no transportation experience, she negotiated with private companies, hired a driver and helped create the route herself. “You actually need to drive [the route] to keep kids safe. There are things you can’t see on a map,” she said. Webb said the school has been blessed with a wonderful driver, but back-ups are nearly impossible to find. Her husband has volunteered to get his bus driver’s license so the school will be covered in a pinch.

Throughout South Jersey, parents are nervously waiting to see what this August will bring. Sandra Rodriguez hopes her daughter’s bus will continue to take her from Bridgeton to Bishop Schad Regional School in Vineland. In Hammonton, Bob Brunges fears lost funding could result in cancellation of his children’s bus to Saint Joseph Regional Elementary School. Like the Littles, both families chose Catholic schools for values, the ability to experience faith in the classroom, and strong academics. It’s possible they will lose that choice if the bus doesn’t come.

This issue affects all New Jersey taxpayers. Log onto Voter Voice at http://njcatholic.org/faith-in-action and ask your legislators to speak up for you.

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