BERNARDS TWP., NJ - Parents of Bernards Township children who don't qualify for a free seat on the school bus next year can sign up for subscription busing at a cost of $730 per child - a $10 increase from last year - to cover the 2016-17 school year.

The deadline is June 30 for signing up in order to guarantee a seat on the school bus for transportation to the student's school starting in September, according to a letter to parents on the website.

The school district is legally required to provide free busing for high school students who live further than 2.5 miles from Ridge High School, or more than two miles from the William Annin Middle School or one of the four elementary schools the student will attend.

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The cost is per pupil.

Mileage is determined by taking the "shortest route along public roadways or public walkways from the entrance of the student's residence nearest such public roadway or public walkway to the nearest public entrance of the school that the student attends," according to the school district. "If you are over these [mileage] requirements, you do not need to sign up for the bus. You will automatically receive a bus pass prior to the start of school," the letter said.

There are two ways to sign up for subscription busing. Parents were urged to use the online registation site to enroll their children in subscription busing for the school year.

An alternative is to print out a reservation form posted online, and to mail a check made payable to the Bernards Township Board of Education to the Board of Education business office at 101 Peachtree Road in Basking Ridge. The application cannot be processed until payment is received, according to the school board.

Refunds not available

Bus contracts are awarded on the basis of the number of riding students on the bus, according to the board business office.  Once a route has been determined, the costs are fixed, according to the board website.

The school board was last year informed by the Somerset County Educational Service Commssion - which provides school bus transportation within Bernards Township - that the program was running at a deficit.

As a result, the school district had vowed to raise $350,000 more to pay for school busing next year through a combination of raising busing revenues and reducing expenes.

Schools Superintendent Nick Markarian said recently that a number of bus routes probably will be combined next year because many of the buses are being scheduled with a subtantial amount of empty seats.