In an effort to even out the populations in the town's two elementary schools, the Board of Education voted at its March 2 meeting to re-draw the district lines, sending some kids to Huber Street School who formerly attended Clarendon School. This will require busing of students on Roosevelt Avenue, something that prompted questions from some board members who said a change of state law might have allowed the district to bus them a year ago, rather than holding them hostage to a planned $6.5 million expansion bond scheduled for vote on April 18. Residents around in the Roosevelt Avenue section of Secaucus have complained for years about their children having to make the 12-block walk to and from elementary school each day. Now, almost a decade later, school officials have found a way to provide those children with bus service - provided voters approve the bond. Schools Superintendent Constantino Scerbo said the redistricting plan will take place in September of 2001. "The goal of our Addition and Alternation Program is to provide school facilities in which our children will continue to receive an excellent education," Scerbo said in a report to the board. "In developing these plans, we were very mindful of our commitment to the neighborhood concept. Central to this philosophy is the belief that the principal of an elementary school should know every child and every parent. The principal should be able to regularly visit classes." Scerbo said that when a school population becomes too large for an ongoing personal relationship between the principal and the families enrolled, an important element of the neighborhood school is gone. Because of projected population expectation, Clarendon School - which currently has the larger student population - will exceed the numbers school officials feel can adequately be served. The proposed redistricting of students from Clarendon School to Huber Street School is intended to even out the differences between the two schools. As of October, 1999, Clarendon had 641 students, and Huber Street School had 393. The changes, when implemented, would reduce the number of students in Clarendon to 537 and increase the numbers in Huber Street to 497. "This would make the school populations almost identical," Scerbo said. "If this is not done and Clarendon continues to grow, the situation would become unmanageable and the school would need more administrative staff." Board Member Paul Amico said the redistricting is made possible because of the expansion of both schools. "When we designed the expansion, we made the space in both schools almost identical," he said. "Both schools will have three kindergartens and 21 classrooms. The square footage in the library is the same within a few feet." Students currently bused to Clarendon School from County Avenue North and South would be transported to Huber Street School instead. Roosevelt Avenue students, not currently bused to Clarendon School, will be bused for the first time to Huber Street. Screbo said the current fifth and sixth graders would not be impacted by this change since both will have graduated by the time the plan is implemented. The current fourth graders will be sixth graders at the time of redistricting. Those 15 students living in the affected areas will be allowed the option of remaining in their current school to graduate with their classes if they wish. "Those Roosevelt Avenue sixth graders (as of September, 2001) who choose to remain in Clarendon will be transported so as not to inconvenience families who may then have children attending both elementary schools," Scerbo said. The current pre-K-through-third grade students, and any new students who move into the affected areas, will attend Huber Street School in September 2001. Dealing with a sore subject Board Member Edward Rittberg said it is possible to bus students from the Roosevelt Avenue section because students would now have to cross more dangerous intersections. School bus service to the Roosevelt Avenue section of Secaucus has been a sore subject for years. Although school officials have enticed voters in that area to support the school district's bond to expand the schools, school board attorney Dennis Macher said a change of law could have made it possible for residents to have bus service a year ago. "The change of law leaves it up to the municipal police department to determine where or not certain streets represent a danger," he said. Until last year, parents of elementary school children living in the Roosevelt Avenue area faced the unappealing choice of allowing their children - some as young as five years old - to walk the 12 blocks to Clarendon School. This meant crossing numerous busy intersections. Until last year, state law allowed schools to bus students living beyond certain distances. For high school students, the limit was two miles. For elementary school students, it was 1.5 miles. Up until the late 1980s, Secaucus schools provided all students with transportation to and from school. This was called courtesy busing, and the school district was only reimbursed by the state for those students living beyond the legal limit. When the school district suffered a financial bind in the late 1980s, they cut back service to those who met the state requirement. While parents protested the change, the board maintained its position. Residents from the Roosevelt Avenue section claimed their children were at risk crossing Paterson Plank Road. In 1992, a bill passed by the state legislature allowed the towns to charge for residents beyond within the legal limit, an option once more rejected by the Secaucus Board of Education, fearing they'd start a two-tiered system of transportation and create bad feeling among those residents near the cut-off point. Last year, the state legislature modified its busing law to allow local police to determine if a street was too dangerous to cross. This would allow Secaucus to bus students from areas like Roosevelt Avenue, even if the bond for expanding the schools should fail. At Tuesday night's Board of Education meeting, board member Douglas MacCormack questioned the attorney closely, apparently alarmed by the fact that he had been left in the dark about the change of law. Several board members said they did not know enough about the busing issue to comfortably vote on the busing aspect, and asked for that part of the resolution to be tabled, while the whole board voted for the redistricting - hinging on the passage of the bond next month.