UPDATE: Can South Orange-Maplewood ‘Get to Better Transportation … Starting in January’? — Board of School Estimate to Meet Oct. 6

by Mary Barr Mann
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This story was updated on Sept. 21 with comments from South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education President Thair Joshua.

Maplewood Mayor Dean Dafis announced tonight that the South Orange-Maplewood Board of School Estimate — which approves the tax levy to support the South Orange-Maplewood School District’s annual budget — will meet on October 6 to discuss “better” transportation for the district “starting in January.”

Update: Reached for comment, Board of Education President Thair Joshua stated via email on Sept. 21, “I can confirm the Board of School Estimate meeting will occur October 6th . … One clarification from the comments you shared is that the budget discussions happening during the BOSE meeting are for the 2023-2024 SY, not January 2023.”

The BSE is made up of members of both the South Orange and Maplewood governing bodies, as well as members of the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education.

The decision by the Board of Education to end “courtesy” busing — busing provided to some elementary and middle school students who live between 1-2 miles from their designated schools — has provoked a public outcry by some district families online, in person and through correspondence with elected leaders in recent months.

“Officially I believe tomorrow we will be announcing that through the Board of School Estimate, we will be convening on October 6 at 5:30 p.m. in person at the school district administrative office, 525 Academy — a working group meeting to go over budget for 2023 and to go over, in particular, the transportation issue,” said Dafis during his update at the September 20 Maplewood Township Committee meeting.

“We’ve heard from a lot of parents and students and we want to have a public session, a working group with an agenda where we can have a dialogue with the community and hear from the community what they’re willing to pay for, so that we can get to a better transportation that meets most needs, starting in January.”

The announcement comes as something of a surprise after Board of Education President Thair Joshua announced in August that there would be no restoration of courtesy busing for South Orange-Maplewood elementary school students for the 2022-23 school year.

“During my last update, I said that there were not enough resources available to offer additional transportation at the beginning of the school year,” said Joshua during his President’s Report on August 25. “Some of those resources are financial and there have been discussions on using the board of school estimate for additional funding. I asked the district to inquire about this possibility with the county business administrator. Unfortunately, that is not an option for the school year. The deadline for seeking funding from the board of school estimate to receive funding for the current school year is April 8th.” Joshua added, “It can be an option available during budget planning for the 23-24 school year. And those conversations will happen in the budget planning process along with the FFT committee.”

Joshua’s email on Sept. 21 corresponded with his earlier comments. Joshua wrote in full: “I can confirm the Board of School Estimate meeting will occur October 6th at 5:30pm. The public notice will be sent out later this week or early next week. I’ll defer to Dr. Taylor and Mr. Burnside on the timeline. One clarification from the comments you shared is that the budget discussions happening during the BOSE meeting are for the 2023-2024 SY, not January 2023.”

Village Green has now reached out to Dafis and South Orange Village President Sheena Collum for clarification.

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