A recent audit of the Lakewood, New Jersey school district’s transportation department shows the district is wasting at least $1 million per year on inefficient routes and unnecessary outsourcing.
Ross Haber, transportation consultant with Ross Haber Associates, presented his findings at a public meeting at Lakewood High School Thursday that was attended mostly by school officials and district bus drivers and aides.
The district hired Haber earlier this year to look into the district’s $9 million transportation budget, which officials said was a major driver behind a $28 million deficit for the 2018-19 school year. The state covered the gap with a taxpayer-funded bailout that requires district officials to reduce costs.
According to the Asbury Park Press, Haber outlined four major problems in the transportation department, which is tasked with busing about 5,500 students to the district’s eight public schools.
- Lots of empty seats. The district’s larger 54-seat buses are only half-full, on average, while its shorter 24-passenger vans are running at one-third capacity.
- Buses are sitting idle. Of the 35 larger buses the district leases, seven aren’t being used during the morning rush, yet the district is paying private bus companies to handle dozens of routes each day.
- Routes are poorly designed. “You’ve got buses with some really, really strange routes,” Haber said. The reason: The district is using outdated street maps that don’t reflect the township’s explosive growth in recent years, and the computer software that was purchased 14 years ago to generate routes hadn’t been updated until just recently, he said.
- Way too many stops. The district has an ingrained practice of picking up and discharging individual children right at their doorsteps, rather than at central bus stops. Convenient, yes, but horribly inefficient. “It’s almost like limousine service,” remarked the district’s newly hired busing director, Abraham Krawiec.
Krawiec was hired by Superintendent Laura Winters and state-appointed fiscal monitor David Shafter to clean up the transportation department.
Krawiec said the district can’t afford to run half-empty buses, and vowed to cut out nine routes and redraw the rest to increase efficiency, NJ.com reports.
“A district that is telling teachers and others we don’t have money for raises has large buses that are 49 percent empty, and the smaller buses are 66 percent empty,” school board attorney Michael Inzelbuch told the roughly 70 people who attended the meeting. “Everything is far from okay.”
The audit and comments from school officials drew mixed responses from bus drivers, including some who welcomed the changes and others who felt their jobs would be threatened with the cost-cutting measures.
Veteran driver Ted Throckmorton said drivers were well aware of the inefficiencies, pointing out that the use of outside contractors has meant less hours available for drivers employed by the district.
“I see it as a good thing,” he told the Press. “There needs to be more oversight.”
Another driver, James A. Credle, took aim at Inzelbuch’s exorbitant salary.
“I have a question about you saying that we’re trying to save money,” Credle said. “OK, so before we get into the buses … let’s talk about this lawyer that’s making $600,000 a year. That is the main thing.”
Inzelbuch didn’t take kindly to the comment and talked down to Credle as he defended his high-dollar services as a bargain for the district.
“I appreciate those type of comments because they show nothing but ignorance, and I’ll tell you why,” Inzelbuch said. “I will gladly show you this year alone we saved more … than $600,000 in legal fees. I will gladly sit with you at the end of the meeting. So I appreciate the attempt to rabble rouse.”