One way or another, residents from Homestead Village managed to persuade half of the eight members present at Monday's Board of Education meeting to halt the routing of buses carrying Ridge students through their neighborhood to reach a back entrance to the high school.
On Monday night, the board's 4 to 4 tie vote meant the failure of a motion by board member Susan McGowan to return the buses to the front of Ridge High School while alternatives are examined for alleviating morning traffic at the school's main entrance at South Finley Avenue and Lake Road.
"All the alternatives stink at this point," School Board Member Robin McKeon said after the meeting, although she voted in favor of McGowan's proposal to immediately stop high school buses from dropping off at the adjoining Cedar Hill Elementary School.
On Tuesday afternoon, Homestead Village resident Andrea Williams said that at least some of the neighbors were planning to return on Tuesday night to a second Township Committee meeting. On Feb. 14, the neighbors managed to gain the committee's support in sending a letter to the school board, asking that the busing to Cedar Hill stop while alternatives are investigated.
Williams said the residents feel they have twice approached the school board in a "reasonable and tempered" manner, and offered to help work out an alternative to sending about 27 buses to Ridge through their neighborhood.
"We feel we have been ignored," she said. She said that the neighbors now feel they have to look at their own alternatives, including taking legal action against the school district.
School board member Audrey Cohen Sherwyn, who on Monday voted against the motion, said all board members want a better solution for reducing the traffic entering the high school, and for another potentially dangerous situation where buses and cars merge in front of the building.
"I don't like this as an alternative," Sherwyn said during the board meeting. But she said she doesn't consider that sending the buses back to Ridge, and creating another "scary" situation with walking students, cars and buses all merging on school property, is a viable option.
During the public portion, resident Anne Marie Woolford reminded the school board that they must keep in mind the safety all Ridge students, staff and others entering the high school each morning.
"There's still 2,000 people getting getting into one entrance at the same time — it' just not safe," Woolford said.
While they were speaking, Homestead Village residents brought another round of pleas before the school board, many with similar comments or issues raised at a board meeting held two weeks ago. The comments included a tearful story from a neighborhood teen about how she sometimes is confused about her surroundings while walking to school as a result of a bad concussion. She said she was almost hit by a bus recently, and that bus never stopped. She added she also worries about other walking teens, some who are listening to music on their way to the high school.
Resident Jennifer White also asked the board why there had been no response given to a petition against the busing signed by aboout 165 residents—or to a resolution passed on Feb. 14 by the Township Committee asking that busing through Homestead Village be discontinued while the school district looks at other options for bus routes. Another resident said that neighbors have been speaking to attorneys about potential legal action and going to court to seek a temporary injuntion against the busing.
Board member Michael Byrne said of the committee's offer to work together with the school board to truly find a solution to traffic was "a bunch of crap." He said that the problem could be fixed if the township allowed an access road to the high school from the municipal property off Collyer Lane.
Township Committeewoman Carolyn Gaziano, who attended the school board meeting, said the Township Committee would be willing to offer an easement for the use of additional property at the Board of Health site off South Finley Avenue. She outlined an idea for routing cars into what is now an exit from the high school so buses and cars would be in separate areas for dropping off students.
"I feel horrible there have been cars speeding through the [Homestead Village] neighbhorhood," Sherwyn said during her comments. But after hearing about what neighbors said are safety issues with both school buses and cars heading to Cedar Hill, and comparing that with safety at the high school, Sherwyn said, "No student is more important than the other."
McGowan, in making her proposal, said she had again watched films presented to the public two weeks ago showing changes in the traffic dropoff in front of Ridge both before and after the buses were rerouted to Cedar Hill.
Beforehand, she said, there was a total lack of any system or segregation of vehicles and buses entering the traffic loop at the high school.
After the buses had been redirected to Cedar Hill, McGowan said, the second film showed staff members out directing vehicles, traffic cones and other efforts, which she said should have been made even while buses were using the main entrance to the high school.
McGowan said she believes there should be some system to use at the high school to improve traffic flow while at the same time investigating long-term solutions to the problem.
Board members Linda Wooldridge, McGowan, McKeon and Elaine Kusel voted in favor of switching buses back to Ridge.
"I am really not comfortable [having to] continuing having drop off at Cedar Hill,' Wooldrige said. But she said ways to address the issue should continue if the buses were returned to the high school entrance.
Board members Priti Shah, Susan Carlsson, Byrne and Sherwyn voted against the motion—although several board members on both sides said they would be in favor of following up on the residents' suggestions for an ad hoc committee to study solutions for dealing with traffic at the high school.
Board members also agreed that having police available to help with traffic control and directing cars would ease the situation in the morning.
Carlsson said she would not want the back and forth over the situation to harm the board's relationship with the Township Committee. She also said she had been in Homestead Village that morning, and had seen buses crawling at a slow speed, rather than going fast in the neighbhorhood.
Patch will continue to update this story with more information.