BERNARDS TWP., NJ - The school district's plan for reducing school bus costs for 2016-17 relies on revising bus routes to reduce the number of empty seats on many buses - but redoing those routes will make daily trips on the bus longer for some students, according to school officials.

Schools Superintendent Nick Markarian told the Board of Education last week that the school district and Somerset County Education Services Commission - which provides busing for Bernards schools - are "getting very close" to finishing the redesign of school bus routes for next year.

The school district is seeking to provide similar bus service next year, but with fewer buses and drivers, to reduce a projected gap of several hundred thousand dollars, Markarian said.

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At the beginning of this year, the ESC said that it was going into the red providing school bus service to Bernards Township Schools. During school budget discussions this spring, school officials set the gap at about $350,000.

Markarian said at last Monday's board meeting that any changes to bus routes would be made "while being sensitive to the length of the ride" for students on the bus.

He said he was expecting to have more details, and to update the Board of Education, by the end of this month. The next scheduled Board of Education meeting is at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 27, at the Performing Arts Center at Ridge High School, 268 S. Finley Ave. in Basking Ridge.

Another way of cutting costs included asking students who drive or are driven to give up seats on the bus.

A special districtwide Friday Folder email sent out to parents also included addressed the issue.  

"In order to reduce the number of buses more students will be assigned to each bus to occupy seats that were previously unfilled," Friday's email said. "The result will be that fewer buses and drivers are needed, creating efficiency and saving money, but some route times may be longer."

"We are seeking to strike the best possible balance between financial savings and student ride times for next school year," the email concluded.

Specific information on each student's specific bus assignment is typically sent out at the end of each summer.