With all the dirty laundry airing out at Lakewood Public Schools, one item seems to be getting more than its share of sunlight: the amount of money the district – comprised of 5,000 public school students and 22,000 more who attend private Jewish day schools – spends on transportation.
In turn, this has provoked a rash of newspaper articles on school districts’ legal and moral obligations to provide transportation for all kids who reside within district boundaries, regardless of whether they attend public schools, or “aid in lieu of transportation,” a payment of $884 per year.
As always, Lakewood is its own special case, primarily because it currently spends about $20,000,000 per year busing its Yeshiva kids, presumably less than it would spend by paying each family its 884 bucks. However, it pays a lot more for busing special needs children to one specific private school, SCHI, or the School for Children with Hidden Intelligence.
While the district’s published Board of Education meeting minutes are way late (the law is that you have to post them within one month of the meeting), throw a dart at the minutes that are available on the district website and the odds are that you’ll find this action item, often repeated over and over. From last June’s minutes, for example:
Approval to award a parental contract to the parents of Lakewood student, (ID #2775729035) in the amount of $75.84 per diem (210 days) for a total amount not to exceed $15,926.40. Effective July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012, to transport their child to/from School for Children with Hidden Intelligence, Lakewood, NJ, in accordance with NJAC 6A:27-1.5 and NJAC 6A:27-7.7 Additional information from “contracting student transportation services, page 19) RT: SCHIGC : Subject in receipt of NJAC 6A:27-1.5 and NJAC 6A:27-7.7
In other words, Lakewood pays parents of kids with special needs who go to SCHI up to $15,926.40 per year as compensation for transporting one child to school and back each day. According to the Asbury Park Press, 130 children from Lakewood go to SCHI. If the district pays each parent $15,926.40, that’s over $2 million per year. Can the district buy specially equipped vans to take care of the SCHI runs? Are individual payments of $15K really the most-efficient options?