Teaneck busing brouhaha underscores tensions

Crisis ends, but not the underlying issues

The Teaneck busing fight seemed to roll to a complete stop this week, as the town’s board of education voted Sunday to restore all the cuts previously made to busing.

The conflict highlighted tensions within the town between the parents who send their children to public schools, who are predominately non-Jewish, and those, predominately Orthodox Jews, who send their children to private schools.

The conflict may have reached its peak at a public meeting of the board last Wednesday when one resident yelled, “I don’t want you as my neighbor just as you don’t want me as your neighbor.”

At the meeting, the board voted to use money originally budgeted for the Shalom Academy Charter School to restore both “courtesy” busing for public school students living more than .9 miles from school, and traditional, non-consolidated bus routes for the private school students.

The board decided to reject an offer of $85,000 from the Cross River Bank, which would have restored funding for the private school busing.

Some board members and residents said the offer was divisive in that it would only help certain children.

“We are voting on this measure with a gun held to our head,” said board member Margot Embree Fisher. “We’ve been threatened with a lawsuit.”

Looking ahead to next year’s budget, board member Henry Pruitt said that it is in everyone’s interest if the school budget passes, “because busing is on the chopping block.”

Board president Ardie Walser said, “Sometimes out of controversy little seeds begin to grow that make the world a better place.”

One resident said the controversy will result in greater involvement with the school board.

“I intend to go to more meetings, to participate in board of education elections,” said Lori Silberman Brauner, who had distributed flyers urging attendance at the public meetings that discussed the busing issue.

“If we all did a better job following the education issues in Teaneck, we would be a better community,” said Shelley R. Worrell. Worrell, a graduate of Teaneck High School whose daughter is entering the school, serves as co-president of the Teaneck Council of Parents and Teachers.

“We desperately need dialogue between the African-American community, the Orthodox community, and all the sectors of Teaneck,” she said.

At the board meeting, she had a sheet where people could sign up for a group that would provide an opportunity for such a dialogue. She called it “Fair Teaneck,” because “We need a fair Teaneck that takes into account the needs of all students, public and private, who reside in the community.”

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