Lakewood, NJ – With what was recently hailed as a huge “political miracle,” when a public safety and traffic nightmare was avoided as Governor Chris Christie signed the landmark Lakewood busing bill, a new set of dilemmas has seemingly cropped up.
While Lakewood residents breathed a sigh of relief when it was announced that the governor signed an appropriations bill, what was unknown was exactly how this bill would be implemented.
This landmark bill, which passed the State Assembly and State Senate earlier this year, established an innovative school busing program so that approximately 3,000 public school students and 7,000 nonpublic school students do not lose the “courtesy busing” transportation that was set to be terminated for the upcoming school year.
However, what was not clearly delineated in the bill was how exactly this was to be orchestrated.
As the rest of Lakewood school parents were rejoicing and celebrating the good news, it was the askonim and elected officials who began to realize that there was a huge problem brewing. An emergency meeting was held at the 30th District Legislative Office of Senator Bob Singer, and a plan was formulated to ensure that the intent of the courtesy busing bill would be fulfilled.
Senator Singer reached out to the New Jersey Department of Education Director of State Monitors, Glen Forne, and asked him to visit Lakewood Township to have a face-to-face meeting with all those involved in implementing the busing bill.
Mr. Forne acquiesced, and the following day a meeting was held to discuss the bill’s implementation. Subsequently, the Igud Hamosdos and all private schools held an election to appoint five representatives to a board that will oversee the consortium of private schools. This consortium of all the mosdos and private schools would be responsible for the busing of all the private school students, both mandated and non-mandated. The consortium board would hire a director to run day-to-day operations and obtain legal counsel on the overall project.
Committeeman and Police Liaison Meir Lichtenstein mentioned that after the groundbreaking nature of this bill and the difficult, months-long effort it took to gain passage in the legislature and ultimately the governor’s signature, he was not going to let it fail at the last moment.
This particular legislation drew aggressive opposition from various powerful special interest groups, and this was the first appropriations bill signed by Governor Christie in his entire career.
Mayor Menashe Miller credited the efforts of Township Committeeman Meir Lichtenstein; Rabbi Aron Kotler and Rabbi Moshe Weisberg of The Lakewood Vaad; Rabbi Avi Schnall of Agudath Israel of America’s New Jersey office; Isaac Zlatkin and Barry Iaan of the Lakewood Board of Education; Rabbi Osher Lederer and Rabbi Shimmy Balsem of the Igud Hamosdos; administrators of Lakewood’s nonpublic schools; and various other activists from across the state.
On the legislative end, Lakewood’s representatives, Senator Bob Singer and Assemblymen Sean Kean and David Rible, were lead sponsors and promoters of the bill. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, Assemblyman Gary Schaer, the Ocean County Republican Party, and South Jersey Democrats, among others, were particularly influential in securing the necessary votes.
“Ensuring public safety and the ability for parents to provide their children with a quality educational experience remain our top priorities,” says Mayor Miller. “We will now work on various other initiatives as well so that Lakewood can do better than ever on both fronts.”
Photos above: A partial view of the attendees at the meeting: (L-R) Committeeman Meir Lichtenstein, BOE Board President Barry Iaan (partially blocked), BOE Board Member Isaac Zlatkin, State Senator Bob Singer, Director of State BOE Monitor Glen Forne, Lakewood Mayor Menashe Miller, NJ Agudah Director Rabbi Avi Schnall, menahel of Yeshiva Ketana Rabbi Osher Lederer, and Igud Hamosdos emissary Rabbi Avi Verschleiser.