Jennifer White, one of the dozens of neighbors from Homestead Village who have been appearing before both township and school officials to oppose the recent rerouting of high school buses through their streets, said the neighbors will be back at Monday's scheduled school board meeting.
"We are not going away," White said this week. "We think Dr. Goger [schools superintendent] and [Ridge] Principal Howlett should reverse their decision." As of Feb. 1, the school administration decided to start having school buses drop off high school students at the Cedar Hill Elementary School, located next door to the rear entrance to the high school, in an effort to reduce traffic by the front entrance to the high school.
White said the residents also want school officials to acknowledge a petition signed by about 165 neighbors in the area asking that the new bus route be halted. Dozens of people have spoken before both the school board and Township Committee, saying that the combination of early morning school bus traffic and an increase in cars dropping off high school students at Cedar Hill has created an unsafe situation on narrow streets in the area.
At the last board meeting on Feb. 13, and in an email last Friday, Ridge High School Principal Frank Howlett said he believes the change in bus routing has achieved the goal of alleviating morning traffic at the main entrance to Ridge High School on South Finley Avenue. However, Howlett's email and a notice on the Bernards schools website, asked that parents stop driving their cars to Cedar Hill to drop off high school students.
There have been no buses during this week's school vacation carrying students through Homestead Village on their way to Cedar Hill School. But the buses can be expected to resume when school starts again next Monday.
Later that night, the Board of Education has scheduled a school board meeting for 7 p.m. at the William Annin Middle School. White said that many of the parents who attended the last school board meeting on Feb. 13 are expected to return.
Many of those parents also attended a Township Committee on Feb. 14, requesting that Ridge buses go back to dropping off students at Cedar Hill.
The residents argued that creating an unsafe condition in Homestead Village — where two middle school students boarding their own bus were reportedly almost hit by cars carrying high school students to the Cedar Hill dropoff point shortly after 7 a.m. — was not a viable solution to the high school's traffic problem.
After hearing that viewpoint, Township Committee members voted that night to send a letter to the Board of Education asking that buses again drop off students at the high school. The letter was to offer the services of the township's engineer to help plan alternative ways of improving morning traffic flow at Ridge.
Schools Business Administrator Nick Markarian said in an email on Wednesday that he had just met with the township engineer, who had not been able to suggest a viable alternative to sending the buses to Cedar Hill.
Meanwhile, an email sent out by Ridge principal Frank Howlett in the school district's most recent Friday Folder said, "The administration has decided to continue with this new procedure [of rerouting buses with Ridge students through the adjoining Cedar Hill School property] with continuous monitoring and adjusting." The email asked students to whenever possible ride buses rather than driver, and asked parents to stop dropping off students at Cedar Hill.
"We have asked our neighbors in Homestead Village to endure buses traversing their neighborhood on their way to the dropoff point and they have communicated their concerns to us," Howlett said in last Friday's message.
White this week said the school administration's decision to continue the new bus route despite the Township Committee's request to change it back is "irresponsible."
Emails sent to Howlett and Schools Superintendent Valerie Goger were returned on the basis that the two school administrators are on vacation this week.
Meeting with Township Engineer
Markarian said in an email on Wednesday that in his meeting with the township engineer, the engineer agreed that the current Ridge parking lot configuration and access there is little that can be changed from the drop-off pattern, considered dangerous, that had been used at the high school before Feb. 1.
"The engineer noted that there may be alternatives but those would require both a traffic study and construction/modification to the existing parking lot," Markarian said in the email.
Nevertheless, White said she believes the school district should look more carefully at other options instead of dropping off high school students at Cedar Hill. "Transferring the problem to another neighborhood is not a solution," she said.