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Bank offers to make up for Teaneck busing budget cut

Many parents in Teaneck are protesting the consolidation of private school bus routes. Larry Yudelson

The school busing controversy in Teaneck took some sharp turns this week.

On Monday, 400 parents gathered at the Richard Rodda Community Center to protest the consolidation of private school bus routes announced by the Teaneck Board of Education late last month. The controversial plan would save bus drivers time and the board of education $85,000.

Monday’s meeting was called by a group of concerned parents under the banner of Safe Teaneck. The parents warned that the plan endangered their children. It required children to walk long distances in the early morning, and to wait in unwieldy groups of as many as 20 students at street corners, many of which have no sidewalks. The group of parents of day school students was supported by two of the town’s Orthodox council members, who echoed parents’ concerns that the changes would endanger the children.

Board of education members present at the meeting said they were concerned for the safety of the children, but they did not endorse the complaints.

In a related development on Monday, a Teaneck bank offered to donate $85,000 to the school district to offset the cost of restoring full-service bus routes.

“I feel very close to the community,” said Gilles Gade, chairman of Cross River Bank in Teaneck, explaining why he asked his bank’s board to approve the donation.

Gade, an Orthodox Jew, commutes to Teaneck from his home in Cedarhurst, Long Island.

“As a parent, I feel for the parents in the community,” he said. “The bank was specifically opened to make a difference in the lives of the people we serve.”

Gade was alerted to the issue by the councilmen, Elie Katz and Yitz Stern, he said.

The offer would seem to resolve the issue, but the board of education was not prepared to accept it in advance of a public meeting it planned to hold on Wednesday, after this paper went to press. The public meeting was called to give parents another chance to express their concerns.

“The devil is in the details,” Ardie Walser, president of the board, told The Jewish Standard. “As a board, we have to be bogged down in the details.”

Walser said that students in public school will also suffer under the new school budget, which eliminated “courtesy” busing to students in kindergarten through fourth grade who live less than two miles from their school.

“This is a safety issue,” Stern told Monday’s meeting. “This is not about religion, not about how much property tax people pay.”

But property tax bills came up in heated one-on-one conversations between day school parents and school board members after Monday’s meeting ended. Many day school parents felt that in cutting back on bus services, the school board had broken an unspoken social contract they had with the school board.

“People moved to Teaneck for the busing,” said one mother of four, who asked for anonymity. “When the Realtors showed us the houses, they said, it would cost a little bit less to buy in Bergenfield, but there it will cost you $2,000 a child for busing.” Property taxes in Bergenfield are significantly lower, she said.

The mother said that parents of yeshiva students feel that the board of education was instituting a serious cut to the services to close a very small budget gap. The board of education does not dispute the numbers. It said that the combined savings from both consolidating private school busing and eliminating in-town courtesy busing come to one-third of one percent of the district’s $87 million budget for the coming year.


Teaneck busing brouhaha underscores tensions

Crisis ends, but not the underlying issues

The Teaneck busing fight seemed to roll to a complete stop this week, as the town’s board of education voted Sunday to restore all the cuts previously made to busing.

The conflict highlighted tensions within the town between the parents who send their children to public schools, who are predominately non-Jewish, and those, predominately Orthodox Jews, who send their children to private schools.

The conflict may have reached its peak at a public meeting of the board last Wednesday when one resident yelled, “I don’t want you as my neighbor just as you don’t want me as your neighbor.”

At the meeting, the board voted to use money originally budgeted for the Shalom Academy Charter School to restore both “courtesy” busing for public school students living more than .9 miles from school, and traditional, non-consolidated bus routes for the private school students.

The board decided to reject an offer of $85,000 from the Cross River Bank, which would have restored funding for the private school busing.

Some board members and residents said the offer was divisive in that it would only help certain children.

“We are voting on this measure with a gun held to our head,” said board member Margot Embree Fisher. “We’ve been threatened with a lawsuit.”

Looking ahead to next year’s budget, board member Henry Pruitt said that it is in everyone’s interest if the school budget passes, “because busing is on the chopping block.”

Board president Ardie Walser said, “Sometimes out of controversy little seeds begin to grow that make the world a better place.”

One resident said the controversy will result in greater involvement with the school board.

“I intend to go to more meetings, to participate in board of education elections,” said Lori Silberman Brauner, who had distributed flyers urging attendance at the public meetings that discussed the busing issue.

“If we all did a better job following the education issues in Teaneck, we would be a better community,” said Shelley R. Worrell. Worrell, a graduate of Teaneck High School whose daughter is entering the school, serves as co-president of the Teaneck Council of Parents and Teachers.

“We desperately need dialogue between the African-American community, the Orthodox community, and all the sectors of Teaneck,” she said.

At the board meeting, she had a sheet where people could sign up for a group that would provide an opportunity for such a dialogue. She called it “Fair Teaneck,” because “We need a fair Teaneck that takes into account the needs of all students, public and private, who reside in the community.”

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