SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- The prospect of losing busing for Terrill Middle School students took center stage at the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Board of Education (BOE) meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 30.
The topic resulted in a larger than usual turnout for the meeting, which this week followed recognitions of the girls gymnastics and tennis teams in the Evergreen auditorium to accommodate the crowd that came to support the athletes. When the regular meeting commenced in the BOE chambers, the typically empty chairs were filled as parents took the microphone to express their displeasure with the decision to phase out busing next year for approximately 90 students who live within two miles of Terrill Middle School.
The change came after the district made repairs to the back path leading to the school. Fixing the path resulted in the recalculation of distances of homes to the school, according to measurement guidelines established by the state. Thus, students formerly deemed to live more than two miles away are now determined to be at a distance that no longer requires the district to provide free busing.
Board rules allow for 15 minutes of public commentary on any subject, and speakers are limited to three minutes a piece. First up was Anthony Fiore, who has spent a significant amount of time over the past two weeks attempting to build the case for keeping the busing. Fiore accused the BOE of "trying to use the TMS back path as a viable option to skirt New Jersey code" and described the Board's actions as "suspect, alarming, poorly handed, premature, and misguided."
Fiore, who contacted Business Administrator Debbie Saridaki, Scotch Plains Mayor Al Smith, and other officials to express his concerns, cited numerous safety concerns. Among them: traffic, a lack of sidewalks (per the Safe Routes to School Plan of 2015), the presence of a known sex offender near Terrill Middle School, and coyotes.
Other parents spoke about equitable availability of busing, safety concerns of students who would have to walk along Hetfield Avenue to West Broad St., and increased traffic on Terrill Road. The speakers did not indicate whether they would definitely have their children walk to school or if they drive them to school instead.
Schools Superintendent Dr. Joan Mast, in an interview with TAPintoSPF on Friday, explained that this busing controversy has provided the opportunity for the school board to examine all the bus routes in the SPFK12 district.
"We can use this as a reason to examine to totality of busing in the district," said Dr. Mast who denies the accusation that the school board fixed the back path to Terrill Middle School in order to eliminate the busing and save costs.
"Repairs were needed along the path, and we made them," Dr. Mast said. "We are required to report (on busing and distances) to the state. It is normal procedure to do so."
Parents who have children attending different schools face an added time challenge if the busing is taken away.
"I think it's wrong for them to pull the busing," said Jim Wright, whose youngest son is now a sophomore at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School. "We didn't have the busing for our first son. When we did the driving to drop off kids at the high school, Terrill, and McGinn, we'd spend an hour driving kids around."
"It can take 30 minutes to drive from Hetfield Ave. to Terrill and back in the morning because of the traffic," Wright added. "I feel for those parents. I'm glad I don't have to deal with it."
To watch the public commentary on the busing issue at the Board of Education meeting, click the link below and scroll to 1:12:00 of the video.
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