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Teaneck school officials restore public, private busing

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

The Teaneck Board of Education has restored all courtesy busing in town, amid a “separate but equal” backlash from the parents of public schoolchildren to an $85,000 donation that staved off a proposed change in how private students are bused.

“I applaud the Board of Education for using the Shalom Academy Charter School money and restoring all busing for the public and private schools,” said Councilman Elie Katz, one of the driving forces behind getting the trustees to unanimously reverse the new busing plans.

“This is issue is about the safety of all Teaneck kids,” Katz told CLIFFVIEW PILOT after Sunday’s morning board meeting at t he Eugene Field School on Merrison Street.

Two heated public meetings the past week drew hundreds of people after district officials unveiled a plan to consolidate bus stops for roughly 2,000 children who attend private schools – most of them Jewish – and eliminate busing for nearly 600 public school pupils grades 1 through 4 who live less than two miles away. The plans were part of the board’s responses to cuts imposed after voters overwhelmingly rejected the district’s proposed budget for 2011-2012.

An already contentious climate flared when Cross River Bank offered to cover the $85,000 that district officials said they’d save through consolidating the bus stops for mostly Jewish students from kindergarten through their senior year at yeshivas. The school board agreed to accept the money and keep what essentially is door-to-door service for the youngsters.

Some say they consider that divisive, given that the bank is paying for a specific public service to be rendered to a private interest – and not deposited into a general fund – while pupils in the lower public grades are penalized by the two-mile rule.

In turn, school officials say it’s difficult to refuse a subsidy in such harsh economic times, no matter what it’s earmarked for.

Sunday’s meeting had a considerably smaller turnout and a much less heated tenor, given the fact that board members already had stated their purpose in convening the special session.

Board President Ardie Walser called it “the right thing for us to do.”

Katz is involved in a group known as “Safe Teaneck,” which pushed school officials to put an end to all of the trouble in one fell swoop.

Yes, its members acknowledge, the bank’s donation keeps private pupils in town from having to walk farther than usual in the morning darkness to a different bus stop. However, they told CLIFFVIEW PILOT on Friday that they wanted school officials to go a step further and scrap the busing changes altogether, talk to “both” groups as one and close the rift between them before it grows any wider.

Katz and fellow Councilman Yitz Stern, who is on Cross Bank’s Board of Directors, say the district can now service both public and private school youngsters thanks to:

•An increase in state revenue of $ 2.3 million since the changes were made;

•$1.38 million originally slated for the Shalom Academy charter school that has become available;

•Any other donations prompted by Cross River Bank’s contribution.

Of course, this all raises a new question about that contribution. The Board originally set tomorrow as the date for the check to clear and be officially accepted. Stay tuned ….

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