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Hazardous Busing: Who Should Pay?

Council president opposes paying for a service provided by the school district, but not the service itself.

Only the township can fix poor road conditions—and for years, that has been the reason it has paid for the school district's hazardous buses.

But, for the second year in a row, Council President Matthew Moench is arguing there may be a better solution.

Moench said Monday that he believes it is time to review the agreement that was made with the school district years ago concerning hazardous busing.

"The township entered into an agreement with the schools where we pay for hazardous busing," he said. "The issue I raise is who should foot the bill."

Hazardous busing stems off of courtesy busing provided for students who live within a certain distance from an elementary, middle or high school. Moench said in a separate interview that the state requires that every child who lives more than a mile-and-half from an elementary school, or two miles from a high school, be bused.

All others students are not provided busing.

The Bridgewater-Raritan School District, however, voluntarily decided to shorten those distances, and provide courtesy busing for more students. From there, Moench said, the district began to offer hazardous busing for those students who are normally treated as walkers, but who deal with some kind of hazard on the way to school in the morning, such as crossing a highway or walking across gaps in the sidewalk.

"It is for kids who travel where it is too dangerous to walk," he said. "That condition is determined by the police department."

For years, Moench said, the bill for hazardous busing has been paid by the township, which is considered to be in a position to correct a hazard. In a resolution approved Monday, the Bridgewater Township Council committed to paying $279,998 for the 2009-2010 school year, but the cost varies based on the number of students and the number of miles the buses have to travel.

"If there is no sidewalk, the school district can't take care of it," he said. "We figured that because the township has not picked up the tab for the hazard, we'll pay the bill for the busing."

Councilman Dan Hayes said he believes there could be discussions about the service, but is comfortable with the current situation.

"Hazardous busing we are required to do, and we can always fix the hazard," he said.

Moench said he still believes it would make more sense to at least examine this policy.

"The money is still coming from Bridgewater taxpayers at the end of the day," he said. "Maybe we should look at the school picking up the cost, but there has been really no support for that."

In the agreement made through the resolution, the township agreed to pay the 2010 bill, but also obligated itself to the 2011 one.

"Certainly the district would not look favorably on adding more money to its budget," Moench said. "But in these economic times, we can never rest on an idea that this is how it has been done before."

Councilwoman Christine Henderson Rose said that although she supports paying for hazardous busing, she would not be against discussing a change.

"I don't think anything prevents us from having a conversation," she said. "Neither entity has much money anyway."

Although Moench decided to vote for the resolution, he said he thinks the township would benefit from discussions between the council and district.

"The school district wants us to keep the agreement this way," he said. "And people are relatively satisfied now. Hazardous busing is a service we want to provide and should provide, but I think this is something we should discuss."

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