— It is encouraging to see some buzz and potential momentum for getting a school bus to South End for high school students. This issue has been a graveyard of good ideas and student projects. If we move forward, it will be a test of our community’s commitment to both equity and properly funded schools.
The last time administration and Board of Education members mentioned the cost of having a South End high school bus route, they said it could be as high as $1 million dollars. The cost, and the subsequent budget cuts to offset it, made the new bus route a dead issue. However, there was never any talk of simply adding that cost to the budget. If we want to do the right thing (busing equity) and still properly fund our schools, adding the busing cost to the budget without significant corresponding cuts is the only goal to work toward.
There needs to be systemic reform to reduce New Jersey communities’ reliance on property taxes to fund schools, but lamenting reasonable increases in said taxes in the meantime gets us nowhere. I can’t claim to be an expert on the matter, but would the increase in an individual household’s taxes based on dividing the $1 million among all households not be reasonable?
There are other options that might reduce both tax increases and budget cuts, such as having a shuttle from one or two strategic spots. We might look into this as a first step in a more comprehensive plan that eventually leads to a dedicated bus route and raises taxes in stages over time, but it cannot be the final resolution to the issue. I fear if we start there, we’ll end there.
I’ve lived in this town for more than a decade and our improvements in education equity have been modest. Adding the cost of a South End bus for the high school, without making significant cuts to vital staffing and programming, would move the needle a bit further. The Montclair community must rise to the challenge.
— Brian Ford, Montclair