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Board: Rerouting Buses Won't Fix Overcrowding

Redistricting discussions continue about the problems with rerouting buses.

Tuesday's continued discussion centered on the idea of changing bus routes—but many board members are strongly against that particular change.

"I'm not really in favor of just taking bus routes and moving kids," board member Lynne Hurley said. "I'm much more in favor of taking kids from the same program and moving them so they have each other and are more easily transitioned."

"I think moving buses is more difficult on the child," she added.

But discussions on the bus routes also centered on the fact that doing so may not actually alleviate the problems in classrooms because the numbers of students moved may not be determined by grade, but rather by where they live.

"I am not sure whether moving the bus routes really makes that much difference, if kids are going to be scattered over all grades," board member Arvind Mathur said.

Board of Education President Evan Lerner, who was a member of the redistricting task force, noted that this was discussed and the committee saw that rerouting provides a less precise account of what students will be moved to which schools.

"So we might have a spike in one grade," Mathur said. "It is not predictable, but it is also not sustainable because we will have changes in the bus routes."

But, Brookner added, he would be less hesitant to move bus routes if there was some kind of guarantee that the same students wouldn't have to be moved more than once because of later overcrowding.

"If it's the right thing to do, I think the option should stay on the table," he said.

Board of Education Vice President Patrick Breslin said he would rather redraw all bus routes instead of moving certain ones.

"I don't want to have to move any child twice for this process," he said, adding that he is concerned that once the economy changes and populations potentially rise, a neighborhood may have to be rerouted again because of overcrowding. "My feeling is that by working with programs rather than bus routes, we have the opportunity to make small adjustments to get things done as well as can be expected."

Breslin said that when his children were in primary school, they attended , but the bus route ended at his block, which meant kids one block over attended .

"They ended up growing up for a number of years in two different environments, with activities centering around two different schools," he said. "I wish there was a way to do it, but I don't think there is a way to draw the lines where we don't impact anyone."

Discussion also shifted back to the pros and cons of moving the entire AI program from Adamsville to .

Board member Jill Gladstone said she had heard from parents that if this is done, there is a chance the school will have to offer a free breakfast program because of the change in percentage of those part of the free and reduced lunch program.

"I thought, if there's kids who need that, they should have it," she said. "If the demographics change in that school, these kids who could qualify for free and reduced lunch could get it. That could mean fewer nurse visits, higher attendance and better test scores."

These programs are required by the state based on students who qualify according to certain criteria.

If the AI program is moved from Adamsville, it will free up five classrooms at the school. Brookner questioned whether it would put a strain on certain services and more.

"The services won't be different than they are now at Adamsville," Superintendent of Schools Michael Schilder said. "If we need more services, we will provide them."

"I think it's doable," he added. "If you want to relieve Adamsville by more than five classes, it is also a matter of moving students with certain services, so it could free up some staff as well."

If those five classrooms are freed, Schilder said, the school will probably take three to provide for those services currently being offered in the hallways at Adamsville because there are no extra classrooms.

"That would leave the school with two open classrooms, which is what we really want," he said. "We need those rooms, need that flexibility."

"On the other side, if we are moving the AI program to Hamilton, the school has six available rooms," he added. "That's going to bring them down to one flex room, and that's tight."

Breslin asked if there would be a possiblity of changing the location of primary autism classes in order to give additional rooms to Hamilton. Instead of moving that entire program to Crim, he said, he wondered if the district could instead simply move new entrants into the program to Crim, while keeping the current classes at Hamilton.

"Instead of making decisions three and four years out, we could decide whether it is in the best interest to have a new class starting at Hamilton, and control the population somewhat rather than moving everyone," he said. "If real estate trends don't turn, we are only going to have one or two tight years at Hamilton. I don't see any reason to move the entire program from Hamilton to Crim, and I think we will be able to manage it over a two-year period."

Monica Butler, executive director of student services, said there is an unknown to consider in terms of how many students will progress from Hamilton. Students in the autism program don't necessarily age out, they achieve out and move on to different grades based on that achievement level.

"It's something we can look at," she said. "But we have to see the age range of the students who are moving, how many slots we have and where they can be combined."

But Brookner said he sees a problem in terms of the shift in the ages of students who could remain at Hamilton over the years.

"Then I see a problem where we have only fourth graders at Hamilton, and it's more likely we are left with only one or two kids in the grade," he said. "The critical mass of students makes it more efficient if we keep the whole multi-year layers' worth of kids."

Lerner said he is overall more inclined to move the AI program from Adamsville right now, but is still unsure of what to do to prevent the overcrowding at Hamilton and other issues. In addition, he said, he wonders why there has been no talk of moving students to , which is the most underutilized in the district.

"That may not be a horrible thing, but it may not be efficient," he said. "It doesn't have to be part of resolving Adamsville, but it's something to think about."

Lerner said the task force did not initially look to move the autistic classes to Bradley Gardens because of the thought that it would be best to keep them at two schools that are not spread across the district.

But when focusing specifically on the entire student body and looking at how bus routes might affect the general population, several board members did agree that there may not be as much effect on the students with moving them to different schools as was previously assumed.

"I have heard it causes no social or educational impact," Brookner said. "The kids get used to it."

Discussion on redistricting is expected to continue at the March 27 Board of Education meeting, with a decision possible at the first meeting in April.

Alexandra March 15, 2012 at 12:57 PM
Any discussions of moving children to Bradley Gardens seemed to be quieted down for various reasons at the meetings, however the staff and parents in the community welcome more children to the school. When the ABA program was at Bradley it was a nice fit for those special needs children. In addition, Bradley has to say Good Bye to so many children that test into the AI program every year....why can't AI be at Bradley Gardens?
Jeffrey Brookner March 15, 2012 at 03:16 PM
One note of clarification. I did say, and still believe, that moving general-education kids is no big deal. Parents make a big deal about the impact it will have on their kids, but the impacts rarely materialize. However, as was stressed repeatedly at the meeting Tuesday night, moving special-education programs (such as ABA) can present much larger issues for the kids in those programs. Thus, all else equal, my preference is to move neighborhoods rather than special-ed programs. Please note that these comments are my own. I have no authority to speak for the BOE on this or any other topic. Jeffrey Brookner Member, BR-BOE
Jeffrey Brookner March 15, 2012 at 03:21 PM
Moving the AI program to Bradley Gardens has been discussed, but there are two significant drawbacks. First, the school does not have the capacity (classrooms, cafe-tori-nasium usage, etc.) to absorb 100+ kids. Second, we'd rather not tuck the program into a corner of town. Kids from Martinsville and Bound Brook would have a very long commute. Please note that these comments are my own. I have no authority to speak for the BOE on this or any other topic. Jeffrey Brookner Member, BR-BOE
Bella March 16, 2012 at 01:24 AM
I am coming in on the tail end of the issue of moving ABA students and wondered if this mean that the addition at Adamsville put on specifically for these students would be put into general population?? These rooms were built for these children - ie. toilets 8" off the ground - temp regulated - bathrooms in each room etc...

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