BERNARDS TWP., NJ - Bernards Township school officials are continuing to look at ways to cut school busing costs for the next school year, with "three-tier" and "two-tier" changes to school day schedules as the top proposals.

School Board to meet again on Monday night

The Bernards Board of Education is scheduled to meet again at 7 p.m. on Monday night, Oct. 19, in the performing arts center at Ridge High School, 268 S. Finley Ave., Basking Ridge.

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Possible changes in school schedules for next year

Under the possible three-tier system, the start and end of the school days at Ridge High School, the William Annin Middle School and the district's four elementary schools would be spread far enough apart so that the same set of buses could transport students to all the different schools in the district.

Under another scenario, the so-called two tier system, one set of buses would transport students to the high school and then have time to pick up and drop off middle school school students, Schools Superintendent Nick Markarian explained at last week's Board of Education meeting. 

A second set of school buses would serve the four elementary schools - with two of those  schools to have an earlier opening time, for example, at about 8 a.m., with two others to open at about 9 a.m, Markarian said. That would allow the buses time to transport and drop off students at two elementary schools before picking up children for the other two, he suggested. 

Answer wanted by end of 2015 for any changes to be made in next school year

School officials said the changes, if made, would not take place until the next school year, 2016-17. However, the Somerset County Educational Services Commission (ESC), which provides busing for the Bernards Township School district's six schools, has asked the school district to suggest by the end of 2015 how to reduce transportation costs for next year.

Markarian said last week that he expects the topic of how the school district can help pare the ESC's school busing costs will be a regular topic at upcoming Board of Education meetings.

The ESC has informed the school district that it will lose about $400,000 to $500,000 providing that transportation in the 2015-16 school district, school officials said at a board meeting at the end of September.

The ESC now routes about 60 school buses up from its main parking facility of about 15 miles south to transport township students on a regular school day, school officials said.

Changing the student schedule to a three-tier system would reduce the need for about half of those buses, Markarian said. The two-tier bus schedule would mean that about 45 buses each school day would be required for Bernards schools, he said.

But school officials say the changes could have other unanticipated results, such as increasing the hours of some school bus drivers who might then be eligible for benefits payments.

Other ways of saving money on school bus transportation

School officials are also looking at other options - such as parking buses in the township to save money on both fuel and labor costs. But Markarian said last week that option is probably not likely for consideration unless some entity offers to donate an area where the buses could park.

Another option mentioned earlier this fall was having the township purchase its own fleet of buses. That suggestion has received little public consideration so far.

Here is the agenda for the Monday night meeting.