Sister Rose DiFluri is preparing for a flood. In fact, she is planning the flood.
At the first school gathering for parents (in most cases, Back-to-School Night), every Catholic school parent will be asked to sign letters to Gov. Christie and state legislators about funding for school services, with a special focus on transportation. Sister DiFluri will make sure the letters are delivered to the appropriate offices at one time — a deluge of pleas for increased funding so students can get to school.
Sister DiFluri, assistant superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Camden, is a woman on a mission.
Why is school transportation such a hot topic?
Well, the short of it is, if we can’t get our students to school, there is no school. Between a nine-year funding freeze and bus route nightmares, transportation is a constant battle. Sometimes a route gets cancelled with minimal notice. Or we receive the schedule just before school opens and find out that pickup for our students will start at 4:55 a.m. I mean, that’s the middle of the night. It’s ridiculous.
What happens if a route gets cancelled?
If the public school transportation coordinator can’t reach an agreement with a busing company, we’re on our own. We had a new principal this summer who got thrown into the fire trying to configure bus routes and arrange transportation for almost 200 students. It’s a huge undertaking. She worked it out, but a principal’s time is better spent on education, not negotiating bus contracts.
So how much does the state provide?
The state provides an allotment of $884 for students who live more than two miles (2.5 miles for high school students) from school and don’t have access to busing through the public school district. That amount hasn’t been changed in nine years. Nine years. It doesn’t cover the cost. When there’s a shortfall — and there’s always a shortfall — it’s on the school and/or families to come up with a creative solution.
Is the letter-writing campaign for all parents or just those who need busing?
It’s for all parents who want to keep their school open. Seriously, this issue affects everyone and we’re turning up the volume. Flooding the governor and our legislators is one way of getting the message across. Do you know that it costs $19,000 to educate a student in a New Jersey public school? Just imagine if the 11,500 students who go to Catholic school in Southern New Jersey suddenly showed up on public school doorsteps. Now that would be a flood. The cost of bus transportation would seem pretty insignificant then, right? We need to make sure all students can get to the school of their choice, so we’re urging every parent to sign the letters provided at school gatherings over the next few weeks.
Mary Beth Peabody is Communications and Marketing Manager, Office of Catholic Schools.
For more information about Catholic schools in South Jersey visit www.camdendiocese.org/schools (856-583-6103)