Township Councilwoman Fran Siddons sat through a barrage of criticism at the Jan. 28 council meeting from those who disagreed with her views on shared services between the two school districts in town.
Speaker after speaker - mostly Berkeley Township Board of Education bus drivers who were afraid they would lose their jobs - hammered Siddons for her comments at a recent board meeting when she suggested combining administrative services for the Central Regional and Berkeley districts and merging the two bus fleets.
Siddons later described the meeting as a "lynch mob."
Tuesday night's council meeting was markedly different. Several speakers - including Berkeley Board of Education President James Fulcomer - defended her right to speak at the school board meeting.
"I commend Fran Siddons for urging our school board to support this policy," Fulcomer said during the public portion of the council meeting.'
'If we want to make it easier for our school districts to lessen the tax levies, support the views expressed by Councilwoman Siddons and consider shared services," he said.
Combining administrative positions and merging the Central Regional and Berkeley Township bus fleets would not only save money, but enhance education, he said.
And contrary to rumors in town, no bus drivers from either district would lose their jobs, Fulcomer said.
"I don't know," he said. "Maybe i should stand on my head to stop people from lying. These are the last people we want to lay off."
The Berkeley Board of Education had past opportunities to share services, but did not take advantage of them, said Fulcomer.
"Our school board did not have enough money to keep our science teacher and the foreign language teacher," he said.
Fulcomer also criticized whoever started the rumors that elementary school students would be riding the same buses as high schoolers.
"Central Regional has assured the public that will not happen," he said. "Nobody has every advocated such a radical policy."
Fulcomer was elected to the board in 2011. He ran on a platform endorsing shared services and the eventual consolidation of the two districts.
"If we don't combine central administrative services we will really get hit hard," he said.
Two years ago, Central Regional officials met with Berkeley district officials to explore the feasibility of merging the bus fleets for both districts, Central Regional Superintendent Triantafillos Parlapanides has said.
Merging the two fleets would be a five to ten-year process. The only jobs eliminated would be through attrition, Parlapanides said.
There would be a three-tier bus run system if the fleets merged - high school students first; Central Regional Middle School and Berkeley Township Elementary School students, who are fifth and sixth-graders - next, and all other elementary school students shortly after. BTES and middle school students would not ride on the same buses, just have the same pick-up times, he has said.