Ravi 053019 BOE meeting

Monroe Township resident Ravi Mandavia discusses cuts to the transportation budget that reduce courtesy busing for students in some neighborhoods at the May 30 Board of Education meeting. 

MONROE – After public outcry, the Board of Education voted May 30 to restore cuts it made to courtesy busing at a previous meeting.

The cuts impacted students attending Oak Tree and Woodland elementary schools who are within a distance of two miles of the buildings, a range set by state regulations.

After discussions, the board agreed to restore transportation cuts, except for after-school programs. The after-school program cuts will head to a committee for additional review and recommendations for discussion at the board’s regular meeting in June.

The cuts were initiated following some trustees requesting the administration to find ways to shave budgetary expenses after the budget presentation earlier this year but before its adoption.

The review resulted in board approving chopping $800,000 from the plan, including to transportation.

“In regard to the transportation budgets it is imperative to note that the director of transportation, the director of security and other administrators felt that the courtesy-busing routes that were eliminated were those district-wide that had the least impact on student’s safety and included developments near Oak Tree that have sidewalks and were adjacent to the school and in Woodland where crossing guards were available for students,” Kathy Kolupanowich, school board president, said during the May 30 meeting before the public comment session.

The public backlash was fierce at the meeting, lasting nearly 90 minutes of the two-hour gathering.

Residents of various age ranges who spoke made it clear that the board’s decision to make cuts to busing was not supported, which ultimately prompted trustees to reverse part of their decision.

“As a father of a 5-year-old daughter who is going to start kindergarten in September … this is the worst news one can expect. What I’ve been hearing so far is that only selected few buses have been cut off,” said Ravi Mandavia, a Stratford Meadows community resident, which was one of the neighborhoods impacted. “That baffles me. I don’t understand.”

Mandavia, along with other speakers, questioned the board’s and administration’s analysis that the walking routes were safe for children to and from school.

“I can assure you and each and everyone over here can assure you none of those routes are safe,” Mandavia said. “I walked the route myself [May 30], there are no sidewalks for 50 percent of the route from Stratford Meadows to Oak Tree School. And on top of that, there is construction going on of single-family homes where you expect a large volume of trucks, minivans, cars going in and out all through the day. Do you expect kids between 5 and 9 years [old] to walk that route every day?”

Other residents also noted that studying walking to school when the weather is nice does not compare to when students will have to make the trek in bad weather conditions, such as snow.

“You had mentioned that somebody walked to make sure that there are sidewalks and it is safe,” said Charles Place resident Ananth Madabushi. “I hope they didn’t walk in this nice 75-degree weather and stroll through it. Take a walk when there is winter and there’s snow and internally, maybe in the community the snow is cleared, but not outside.”

Following the public portion, some board members voiced their objections to the idea that they do not care about the students or their safety.

“I can say to you at sometimes we have to make something that's a very unpopular choice, but not one person on this board hates your children,” said trustee Peter Tufano. “Sometimes the best choice is not always the popular choice, but if people show up and voiced their concerns, maybe we can think differently. OK, so maybe show up more often.”

Some residents who spoke pointed out at the May 30 meeting the board was there to approve a salary increase to the business administrator, Michael Gorski, bringing his annual base pay to more than $200,000 but had just previously made cuts bus transportation and other areas.

“We’re not having [freshman high school] orientation, we’re not having buses so students can stay after and take tests so that they can have opportunities to participate in clubs that will help them get into better colleges,” said Chrissy Skurbe, a frequent attendee at school board meetings. “Yet, you’re proposing tonight to give yet another raise to our business administrator, which will bring his salary up to $211,000. That is a disgrace when you’re cutting from our children to give further increases to administrative salaries. That’s absolutely ludicrous that we’re doing that this evening.”

The Board of Education approved a new contract for Gorski with a base $201,251 salary plus additional yearly pay perks such as $2,475 for having his CPA and $2,500 for longevity.

Audrey Chen, one of several students who objected to the late-run after-school cuts said such a move would harm students’ overall growth.

“I can tell you without a doubt that I’ve learned several life skills in those very clubs that no single school class could provide me with,” said Chen. “I know many of my friends’ parents work very late to support their families and they rely on the late buses to get their children home safely. … Eliminating this necessary service is closing off opportunity to many eager, ambitious students like myself who simply cannot afford to stay after school without a means of going home.”

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Correspondent

Christopher Lang is a freelance correspondent for MonroeNow. Previously he was part of The Record-USA Today Network and served as an editor for a decade at NJMG.