By Lauren Wanko
Lakewood School District faces a $4 million to $5 million budget deficit. It’s one of the reasons a state monitor’s been assigned to the district.
“If that happens, no one gets paid, buses would stop running, so that cannot happen. That’s the first priority and that is what the team is looking at right now,” said Sen. Bob Singer.
So why does Lakewood School District face such as a large deficit? Board of Education member Joel Schwartz, who insists his views don’t reflect the views of the entire board, says there are a number of reasons.
“The growth in Lakewood magnified by its transportation needs and it was an unexpected and larger growth, a lot more than anticipated. Other areas we got hit hard where insurance costs as well as special education,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz says there are about 27,000 students who are bused. There are only about 5,000 students who attend the public school. The rest of the kids go to private school. Schwartz says that’s irrelevant though because the state mandates transportation for kids who live more than a certain distance from school.
“Students, whether they attend, public or private, doesn’t matter. They are entitled for transportation,” said Schwartz.
Although, Lakewood Board of Education offers courtesy busing for about 9,000 students.
“Keep in mind, the only north/south corridor is route 9 and in half the town it is only two lanes. If you did not provide bus service and these children had to be driven by their parents or guardians or there are a huge amount of dangerous areas, route 9 is a dangerous crossing. There are many non sidewalks and it would be chaos. The town would come to a sketching halt,” Singer said.
According to the 2010 census report, Lakewood was the largest municipality in Ocean and Monmouth counties, due in large part to the growth of the Orthodox Jewish community. Lakewood’s municipal clerk believes the population of 92,000 could more than double by 2030.
“What the numbers clearly show is Lakewood’s growing beyond the state mandated gap which is 2 percent cap and that’s where the real problem is. We’re only allowed to raise the budget by 2 percent max so if Lakewood grows by up 10 percent how we make up that difference,” Schwartz said.
The superintendent was not available for an interview. The Acting Commissioner of the Department of Education also chose not to speak with NJTV News. We also reached out to numerous private schools and religious organizations, all of which declined to comment or return our calls. The Lakewood School District’s state monitor will be working with the district through April of next year.