Bus Operator Shortage Could Drive Changes to School Busing on LBI

Nov 14, 2018
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill

A shortage of school bus drivers across the state, including Long Beach Island, could prompt the local consolidated school board to reconsider school busing routes.

“This is not an isolated issue related to LBI,” Chris Kelly, business administrator for the Long Beach Island Consolidated School District, said of a lack of bus drivers. “We have enough drivers to cover the routes.”

However, Kelly said, when two or more drivers are out due to illness or time off, the district does have difficulty finding substitute drivers. That means, at times, some of the routes are consolidated.

“Speaking on behalf of the LBI School District, there are no safety concerns. Drivers may drive an extra 30 minutes a day (15 in the morning and 15 in the afternoon) when we consolidate routes,” she said. “We do not have any courtesy busing; however, we do have some hazardous routes, meaning students that live less than 2 miles from the school get transportation due to dangerous intersections, no sidewalks.”

The district educates students from kindergarten through sixth grade from Barnegat Light, Harvey Cedars, Long Beach Township, Ship Bottom and Surf City. It also has more than three dozen Choice students attending either the LBI Grade School in Ship Bottom or the Ethel Jacobsen Elementary School in Surf City.

State law requires the district in which the Choice students reside to provide transportation to eligible students “within the maximum per student expenditure” established.

“If the cost of this transportation will exceed that amount, then the parents or legal guardians of the student may pay the amount over the maximum or receive the amount established by the statute as aid in lieu of transportation,” according to the general provisions for Choice students.

That’s separate from the state law that mandates all public elementary school students who live more than 2 miles from school and all public secondary students who live more than 2.5 miles from school are entitled to transportation. The distance between a student’s home and the school is measured by the shortest distance along public roadways or walkways.

“This measurement is for eligibility purposes only and is not necessarily the travel path to or from school,” according to the state Department of Education’s website.

The school board is currently discussing options to address the shortage of drivers, but for now the busing situation will remain as is, Kelly said.

“Nothing at all,” she said when asked if the decision to go out-of-district for busing needs played a role in the current situation. “Central Regional manages the transportation function. Additionally, when needed, they’ve loaned us a bus (at no cost to the LBI School District) and also loaned us a substitute driver.”

In related news, two buses are scheduled to arrive by the end of the month, according to Kelly. Buses age out after 20 years, according to limits set by the state Department of Transportation, she said.

“The two that are being replaced have another year left on their 20-year life,” she said, noting the district’s spare bus is being replaced due to significant repairs. “A decision was made to pull it off the road and Central Regional loaned us a bus to keep as a spare, again at no cost to the LBI School District.”

— Gina G. Scala

ggscala@thesandpaper.net

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