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High School Parents, Board Members Do A Transportation Tango

Candace Braun

While busing at Princeton High School has been a problem for students in the past, it has worsened this year for freshman students, some parents say.

According to a letter signed by parents of six children who attend the high school, students are now left without an after school activity for two hours every other Wednesday until buses arrive.

For the past 20 years, a peer program for freshman students has met every Wednesday to discuss issues that are important to young teens, such as friendship, relationships, substance abuse, and stress. Until this year, the group met every Wednesday at the early dismissal time of 1:39 p.m. for the first half of the year, and was then available on a voluntary basis during the second half.

However this year, to allow for smaller class sizes, the high school has changed the program so that student groups meet every other Wednesday for the entire year. This has caused a problem for both parents and students, as buses still do not arrive until the regular time of approximately 3:30 p.m., said parent Dena Friedman at a recent School Board meeting.

"At the minimum, there should be a van to take students home who don't want to stay," she said.

According to Assistant Superintendent Jeff Graber, there are many activities to fill students time at the high school until buses arrive. Clubs, sports, tutoring sessions, study groups, and meetings with teachers and guidance counselors all take place during the extra time students have on Wednesdays.

"These are programs the students can participate in," said Mr. Graber.

And, for those who don't wish to participate in any of these activities, the library is readily available. Approximately 150 students can be found there on any given Wednesday, he said. "Those clubs are not unique to Wednesdays; that's available any day of the week," said Ms. Friedman. "I don't need busy work for my kid for two hours, I need her to come home."

Students who can walk or get a ride home leave promptly at 1:39 p.m. on Wednesdays, said Ms. Friedman. However other students must wait for buses, unless they live in Cranbury. Those students have one bus that arrives at 1:39 p.m. on Wednesdays, and four more that arrive at 3:30 p.m., said Ms. Friedman.

Parent Beth Rothman, who has a freshman daughter in the high school, said she has also called the school about the busing problem. She said she was told to let her daughter expand her horizons and take a walk downtown until buses arrive.

"I trust my daughter, but I'd prefer her to come home and start her homework," she said. "I think the school should look out for the students," she said.

Board member Anne Burns, who has faced a similar situation with her children in the District, suggested students take the middle school bus home on Wednesdays. However, Ms. Rothman said that after making phone calls to the school she discovered that her daughter is not guaranteed a seat on this bus.

Both Ms. Rothman and Mr. Friedman said they would be content with the idea, however, if it was made a formal policy.

"If that could be formally put into action, that would be great," said Ms. Friedman.

The School Board says they have no money at the current time to invest in revamping the bus schedule for students.

School Board President Charlotte Bialek said she looked into the bus schedule for the high school and found that it would cost $36,000 to upgrade the schedule to fit the requests of parents.

"We're already $40,000 in the hole for transportation," said Superintendent Claire Sheff Kohn at a recent Board meeting. "An additional $36,000 is not possible at this time."

Mr. Graber agreed. "It's a rather large expense that we can't take on right now."

Having a full school day on Wednesdays would eliminate all the busing problems, said School Board member Jeffrey Spear.

"Then we wouldn't have a need for the extra bus," he said.

A Larger Problem

Wednesdays are not the only time students encounter problems with busing, said Ms. Friedman. She said her daughter's bus picks her up at 7 a.m. and gets her to school at 7:15 a.m., when school does not start until 7:50 a.m. Because of this, she, along with many other parents, takes her child to school each morning.

"Cars are parked and double parked in the mornings [at the high school]," she said.

Generally, buses drop students off at the high school between 7:20 and 7:30 a.m., said Marilyn Kothe, the school's director of transportation. After school buses arrive between 3:10 and 3:35 p.m., but school is let out at 2:50 p.m.

Ms. Kothe also verified that there are no late buses for children living in the Borough and Township that stay late for extracurricular activities.

Late buses at both 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. are provided for students who live in Cranbury however, said Mr. Graber.

"High school transportation seems to be an afterthought," said Ms. Friedman.

Board member Walter Bliss said at a recent Board meeting that he would like to form a citizens advisory group to discuss the problem, but did not receive any immediate feedback from the Board.

"In my one-and-a-half years on the Board, I've had a lot of transportation issues," said Mr. Bliss . The Board's Ms. Bialek is on a task force to study transportation in the community, and said the group is currently researching transportation issues in the area and expects to have a public report available by the end of December.

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