New School Bus Routes Begin Next Month for LBI Consolidated Students

Jan 30, 2019
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Beginning Feb. 11, the Long Beach Island Consolidated School District will reduce the number of bus routes from four to three as it manages a shortage of qualified school bus drivers.

Chris Kelly, district business administrator, said the move will provide more transportation continuity for students. The district has operated, at different times, with consolidated routes when two or more drivers have been out sick or requested the time off, according to Kelly.

“We’ve advertised for drivers and have had no response. We can’t find them,” Kelly said during the school board’s discussion on the matter earlier this month.

Ship Bottom resident Steve Moser questioned whether the elementary school district is having difficulty because it pays roughly $10 less an hour than other local districts pay their drivers.

“No one is asking what we’re paying,” Kelly said, noting the district still has the same number of buses and bus drivers. Under the new plan, three of the four bus drivers will be full-time and the fourth will be the substitute bus driver when one of the full-time drivers is out sick or for personal time.

Board member James Donahower wanted to know if reducing the number of buses on the road would impact the wait time. From personal experience, Colette Southwick, a Long Beach Township representative to the board, said it takes about six minutes longer for pickup when there are three buses operating. 

“It gives more structure,” William Fenimore, board president, said of the timing difference, “as opposed to (parents) being concerned (when the bus is later than normal).”

Still, board member John McMenamin said the larger number of students on each bus presents a greater responsibility for the bus driver.

“The large buses can take up to 50 (students),” Kelly said. None of the buses, she said, are ever filled to capacity due to circumstances such as student illness or parents driving their child to school for any number of reasons.

As of Jan. 15, one bus was expected to transport about 40 students with the two remaining buses expected to handle 30 or less students.

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.

— Gina G. Scala

ggscala@thesandpaper.net

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