‘Blanket busing’ for schools? Crossing guards, traffic dominate Morristown council meeting

'IT DEFINITELY WAS A SURPRISE TO US': Public Safety Director Michael Corcoran Jr. updates council about school bus rules, June 14, 2022. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin
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For a few minutes this week, a casual observer could have confused the Morristown council with the Morris School District board.

At a meeting where the governing body unanimously approved a $51.5 million town budget and introduced 2 percent raises for top brass with scarcely a word, council members engaged in animated discussion about school crossing guards.

Specifically, a shortage of them. Mayor Tim Dougherty went so far as to suggest the school district should bus most of its 5,700 pupils because town byways are choked with commuter traffic that makes walking risky for children.

The administration and council also got an earful from residents complaining of speeding high school drivers, proliferating rats and overcrowded homes (“stacking”) on Grant Street, and of a flood-stained community pool at Cauldwell Playground. One man said the facility looks shabby compared with beautiful Burnham Park (Morristown) and Streeter (Morris Township) municipal pools enjoyed by more affluent citizens.

“We have to do better,” Andre Khalif said of the Cauldwell pool.

Dougherty said it will get repainted after the summer swim season, to avoid disrupting its use. The mayor added that Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th Dist.) is seeking federal funds to mitigate Whippany River flooding that has plagued the low-income neighborhood for generations.

Morristown High School teacher John Madden, meanwhile, advocated for better signage and more police enforcement of speed limits on Grant Street, which he described as a popular cut-through linking Early Street and Sussex Avenue.

The area has many little children, including his own 2-year-old, he said. New drivers from the high school are among motorists putting them at risk, he contended.

“At some point, somebody’s going to be killed or injured,” Madden said.

“They definitely need speed bumps on Grant Street,” echoed Johnny Jones, who works in the area. “Those young kids from the high school, they fly up the street. They don’t care.”

Jones added that stacking has continued on Grant despite his complaints to officials. And the neighborhood is overrun by rats, he said, because residents are not placing trash bags in barrels as required by the town.

‘CAN’T WE JUST BLANKET THE TOWN?’

Councilwoman Toshiba Foster sparked the crossing guard discussion by expressing alarm at seeing a young boy start to dart across a busy street where a guard should have been posted.

Town Public Safety Director Michael Corcoran Jr. said he was surprised to learn that a state law enacted two years ago says elementary school students can be required to walk two miles to school, and high schoolers, two-and-a-half miles. This has increased the need for crossing guards, already in short supply, according to Police Chief Darnell Richardson.

Foster cited quirks and inequalities in the busing system. Children who live at the bottom of Flagler Street are bused, she said. Those at the top of Flagler can catch a bus at the Morristown Neighborhood House — if they can afford membership there.

The absence of crossing guards outside the high school has made navigating that stretch “a zoo in the morning,” said resident Lorena Inestroza.

Council President Stefan Armington recalled exceptions by the Morris School District to bus students living close to schools, if their walks involved certain “hazard routes.”

“We should put the school board on notice” about our concerns, said Councilman Robert Iannaccone.

Corcoran said the town is realigning crossing guard locations, and trying to recruit more guards. He and the police chief met with school officials earlier this month.

‘CAN’T WE JUST BLANKET THE TOWN’ with school buses, Mayor Tim Dougherty asks, June 14, 2022. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin

“We know Morristown is only 7 percent of the traffic,” Dougherty chimed in. “Can’t we make the argument to just blanket the town (with school bus coverage), because it’s a major thoroughfare for everybody outside the county to get to the major highways…we can’t blanket the town as a hazard?”

Morristown Green reached out to the school district for comment after Tuesday’s hybrid council session. Interim Superintendent Thomas Ficarra emailed this response:

“A meeting took place between the Morristown Police Chief, Director of Public Safety, other Police personnel along with (district security supervisor) Rich Ferrone and (district Business Administrator) Anthony LoFranco.

“This summer, we will review the current placement and times of crossing guards to ensure the District and the Town have the same information regarding walking routes and crossing guards.  It should be noted that all questions regarding potentially hazardous walking routes have historically been settled in consultation with the Police and we will continue that practice.”

In another school-related move, the council authorized “payments in lieu of taxes” — a tax break known as a PILOT — to a contractor for planned renovations to 200 units of public housing in Manahan Village.

A PILOT benefits town coffers while eliminating school tax payments for developers. The rehab work is scheduled in conjunction with the privatization a complex public/private partnership involving the federal Morristown Housing Authority.

IN OTHER BUSINESS

The council introduced a measure approving the administration’s recommendation of 2 percent increases for management and nonunion personnel. The increases mirror raises for unionized employees, according to Administrator Jillian Barrick.

The ordinance establishes new salary ranges. Barrick is at the top of the range ($190,000), followed by the police chief, fire chief, chief financial officer, public safety director and town engineer.  The list is here.

Stipends for the mayor and council will remain at $26,962 for the mayor, and $10,017 for council members, with an extra $1,000 for the council presidemt,

The council also approved a $1.18 million budget for the  Morristown Partnership, which oversees the downtown Special Improvement District. Armington also kicked off discussions about a request from taxi companies for their first rate increase since 2008.

And the mayor thanked Morristown Medical Center for its expert treatment of another heart blockage. Dougherty had a heart attack in 2019.

This article has been updated with details about the Morristown Partnership budget, and a link to more information about a complex partnership undertaking renovations to Morristown public housing.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Pam- The public safety director position should be reconsidered. It’s unnecessary and a waste of money. Take home car, gas, insurance, top of the line pay, all to post on Facebook to do the 9pm routine. Police and fire chief can handle their departments respectively, they certainly are getting paid enough to do so.

  2. So Morristown has a business administrator, a public safety director, a fire chief, police chief, CFO and Town Engineer That’s a tad too heavy…

    If the Public Safety Director didn’t know about a state requirement for bussing/walking school children.. that would worry me…. Maybe his raise should be reconsidered….

  3. When I was in school more than 50 years ago, the state law was that busing was required for elementary students more than two miles from the school and high school students more than two and a half miles from the school.

    I have not followed NJ busing law since then, but I am puzzled as to why the public safety director would be surprised by a requirement which may have been on the books continuously for a considerable period.

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