Eighth grader Josh Kolasa was quick to say “yes” when Resurrection Catholic School principal Molly Webb asked for student volunteers to help with a hefty mailing. The subject of the mailing, school bus transportation, is a reality Kolasa faces every day during his 25-minute bike ride to school. Kolasa rides past Kennedy hospital, where drivers are often speeding to meet a loved one in the emergency room. He crosses crowded intersections as he approaches his school on busy Kings Highway. It’s a ride that will surely become more daunting when temperatures drop and winter snow and ice arrive.
Resurrection lost three Cherry Hill school district buses in August 2016, leaving Webb and approximately 200 students with a major transportation challenge a few short weeks before the start of school. Neighboring Christ the King School (Haddonfield) and Camden Catholic High School (Cherry Hill) were among several other schools facing similar situations.
Students from the three named schools assembled to finalize the mailing of more than 30,000 letters to state legislators, with about a third of the letters addressed to Gov. Christie. Remaining letters were distributed among the senators and assembly representatives in the eight Southern New Jersey districts with Catholic schools.
“I was happy with so many people showing support,” said Josh when he saw the many piles of mail.
Parents in all diocesan schools wrote the letters as part of a back-to-school night campaign asking for an increase in the $884 allotment per eligible student — an amount that has not increased in nine years. The allotment is given to local school districts by the state, but it is often not enough to cover the cost of bus service for nonpublic school students. Families hope the volume will not go unnoticed when boxes and packages arrive at legislative offices.
“The letter writing campaign shows the impact of strength in numbers,” said Sarah Robbins, a senior at Camden Catholic. Sarah believes asking families to play an active role helps educate people about issues and could serve as a catalyst for change. “When a politician or government official hears the thoughts of the people in large numbers, he or she must adjust positions to cater to the needs of [constituents].”
Like Sarah, Assistant Superintendent Sister Rose DiFluri is counting on the power of many voices.
“This isn’t a one-shot deal,” said Sister Rose. “We will continue to work with school communities, parishes and other dioceses in the state as well as the New Jersey Network of Catholic School Families to lobby for change.”
Sister Rose reiterated the fact that New Jersey taxpayers save, on average, $19,000 for every child who attends a Catholic School. “That’s $218.5 million the state isn’t spending on the 11,500 students who attend our schools,” she said. “That’s a lot of teachers, classrooms, textbooks, technology equipment and other resources the state would need if our students suddenly switched to public schools. Seems to me the transportation cost is a much better deal for the state.”
Mary Beth Peabody is Communications and Marketing Manager, Office of Catholic Schools, Diocese of Camden.