Were Lakewood children shortchanged by error-ridden Lakewood Public School maps?

school bus lkwd tlsDecade Old Errors in Busing Maps Hurts Lakewood Kids. Helping children get to and from school in a safe manner, with a reliable busing schedule, has been a major focus of Lakewood parents, elected officials and school administrators these past months. Special state legislation was drafted and passed this summer which continued providing no-cost busing for most non-mandated nonpublic school students in Lakewood. That legislation passed due to the joint efforts of the Lakewood Vaad and the Igud Hamosdos, assisted by Rabbi Avi Schnall of Agudath Israel, R’ Barry Iann, President of Board of Ed, Committeeman Meir Lichtenstein, and other leading askanim.

As a result of the legislation, busing was restored to students who reside below the home-to-school distance for which busing is mandated, which is 2.01 miles from elementary school and 2.51 miles from high school.

Busing for all of Lakewood’s nearly 30,000 nonpublic school students, both mandated and non-mandated, is now administered through the legislation’s newly created independent entity, the Lakewood Student Transportation Authority (LSTA), as opposed to transport being provided by the Lakewood Public School District. The LSTA was created by the State of N.J. legislative statute and it is directed by Avraham Krawiec.

The LSTA began operating shortly before the 2016-17 school year commenced, and has successfully arranged proper busing to and from school for the overwhelming majority of nonpublic school students.

In recent weeks, the LSTA has arranged transportation for hundreds of additional students, and is working feverishly to provide transportation for every single remaining student. Unfortunately, however, there are still approximately 500 who lack busing, and another approximately 1,500 who lack busing one way to school.

As the LSTA continues working on the matter, it made a shocking discovery that helps explain why school busing had been such a challenge in recent years, and continues to be challenging, despite the historic progress.

In order to provide the most optimal service, the LSTA recently purchased “Versatrans” software that is used for school bus route mapping. The software, which has also been used by the Public School District for years, came loaded with the maps that the District has been using for its busing. While training its employees in the new software, LSTA officials discovered that the District’s maps have not been properly updated since 2004 – over twelve years ago! Some of the information on the maps are significantly older than that as well.

“This may be costing Lakewood millions of dollars, and reflects a frozen bureaucracy” remarks Mr. Krawiec. “You can’t believe it unless you see it; we literally have bus routes going through people’s dining rooms!”

The amount of new homes, streets and neighborhoods that have been added to Lakewood since 2004 is significant. Instead of properly updating the maps live, over the past decade the District officials would update it manually. The manual updates resulted in countless serious errors throughout the Lakewood map, including misplaced streets, missing streets, cul-de-sacs showing as through streets, and schools in the wrong locations.

An even bigger issue is that many new schools have opened or others have changed locations during that time period. The LSTA has identified over 55 mapping errors regarding school locations alone. Forty schools were placed on the wrong side of the street. Five schools moved locations, but were not updated in the system. Yet others had the wrong pickup and/or dropoff location on the map.

This is a major contributor to the current school busing woes. The map has made it difficult to properly map bus routes. The bus companies and drivers may have figured out where to pick up and drop off students, but an untold number of routes were showing as unnecessarily long, or showing as shorter than they really are.

Of particular financial importance, the LSTA estimates that there are a large number of students, likely in the thousands, who have been improperly classified as being “non-mandated” by the BOE, since the distance from their home to school was improperly calculated. It is estimated that this improper classification has shortchanged Lakewood transportation funding for non-public school students by as much as $1 million a year or more. (Non-mandated students do not receive government funding. The “aid in lieu” funding for mandated nonpublic school students is directed by the new legislation to the LSTA to provide transportation for all nonpublic school students.)

The LSTA is now working along with The Lakewood Vaad to rectify the matter. The LSTA will have access to fully updated, live Versatrans maps within a few weeks to compile the most time and cost efficient routes. It is also recalculating the number of mandated versus non-mandated students and ensuring that it receives the full funding deserved, which will help cover transportation costs for all students.

Rabbi Yisroel Schenkolewski, Director of the LSTA Board and member of The Lakewood Vaad, recently sent an official letter to the Lakewood Township Committee informing them of these discrepancies, and asking that action be taken by the Township and Board of Ed. Both the Township and the BOE responded immediately to the letter, with their full commitment to ensure that no Lakewood family is shortchanged. Deputy Mayor Menashe Miller referred the issue to Township Engineer Terry Vogt, who promptly provided the LSTA with an official updated map. A fully updated 2017 map is being worked on, which will enable the LSTA to get fully accurate data on mandated and non-mandated students, funding entitlements and route planning.

According to Board of Ed President R’ Barry Iann, “this is one more indication of the how badly the District needs to modernize its systems and personnel.” He expressed the Board’s commitment to fixing the mapping problem on their end too as fast as possible and to ensuring the success of the LSTA.

The LSTA and askanim are working to ensure that full funding is provided in the months and years ahead, which will help ensure that all children could enjoy the transportation they deserve. The LSTA is also exploring various avenues to recoup the funding that Lakewood was shortchanged by the State over the past decade due to the erroneous District maps.

“We will not rest until every Lakewood student receives the efficient, safe no-cost transportation that he or she is entitled to,” says R’ Benny Heinemann, member of The Lakewood Vaad. “We are thankful that this issue has been discovered and progress has been made towards a resolution.”

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16 COMMENTS

  1. “We will not rest until every Lakewood student receives the efficient, safe no-cost transportation that he or she is entitled to,”
    Well, I’m still waiting for bussing for my kids – and we are a mandated route. I realize that it was a challenge for LSTA, but It’s now almost Feb and there is no excuse that I (and apparently 2,000 other parents) are still carpooling daily

  2. The busing situation this year is a fiasco. Why is the bus company demanding $150 per child when I live way more than 2 miles from the school. No busing, no refund money for transportation I’ve been providing for my kids from September till February and now they are asking for me to shell out the cash??? And they don’t deliver!! Who’s sleeping on the job?!!!!!?

  3. Isn’t there a possibility that the changes in maps will also cause kids to be closer to schools causing a loss? They loss and gain may balance out or there may be a small gain or a small loss (or a large gain or a large loss). Taking a celebratory dance before we find out the numbers may be premature…

  4. We started off the school year with busing to school and no busing for the way home. The people that live in ******* neighborhood that send to ***** were also on the route.

    After a few days they decided that they will consolidate the other stops together with our stop all children were picked up from in front of my house this worked out for a few days.

    About a week and a half into the school year the bus suddenly stopped coming without any warning.

    After a few days of not showing up we spoke to the bus company and they said that they changed the stop and is now approximately a mile and a half from my house and even further from the rest of the people that we’re at the stop. When we asked them for the time to expect the bus at this ridiculous stop, they told us that they cannot give us an answer.

    I emailed LSTA MANY times regarding this as none of us consider this as a legitimate stop, but this was never resolved.

  5. Enough with the excuses! We are in February and 2 of my kids in different schools still don’t have bussing home. We all know there was a lot of shtick that went on behind the scenes. I’m paying a carservice to take my child home every day.

  6. We live more than 3.9 miles from my sons’ school. Still no busing for my 5th grader both directions. 7th grader finally got busing Monday-Thursday in PM. Very frustrating! Enough is enough!

  7. Why did it take them this to realize the maps are 13 years old? They acquired the computer software earlier on in the school year! Also this doesn’t really make any sense because the development that I live in wasn’t even around in 2004, yet we have dozens of bus routes stopping here. This applies to a huge part of Lakewood as well! How do we have routes it were not on the map?

  8. Remember everyone. Lakewood is growing so fast in the last 10 years that mapping of infrastructure, roads, new schools being built and some moving to new areas as well as homes and developments has not been able to keep up. Between now and September there will be more schools, roads and developments added that may not be on a map until next year or later. GPS companies only update their maps once a year or so at a minimum. So a school that moved to Oak St from Cross or other street last year may not be updated until sometime this year or next unless it can be updated in real time manually.

  9. What frustrates me the most about LSTA is the lack of transparency about what exactly is going on and how the bus companies decide they want or don’t want a route. Our school is missing 2 busses (yes, compared to some of you, we shouldn’t complain), but this is exactly why we want transparency, like you’d want from any public office. We deserve to know WHY and HOW routes get picked up. Right now it looks like a lot of behind-closed-doors decisions that the pubic has no idea of what really is going on. How do you expect the public to trust the LSTA?

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