School board cuts bus-rental fee for class trips

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The Bloomfield Board of Education approved on Jan. 22 a resolution which will decrease by $100 school bus fees for student field trips outside of Essex County. The action returns the cost to $300 per trip following a board-approved increase to $400 per trip in September.

The new resolution, which passed unanimously, additionally provides free-of-charge bus transportation for field trips to the contiguous communities of Nutley, Belleville, Newark, East Orange, Glen Ridge, Clifton and Montclair. Field trips to all other Essex County communities will cost $200.

According to Jill Fischman, the BOE president, before the September increase, all bus fees were $300 except for school trips staying within Bloomfield. These were free-of-charge. The reason for the increase to $400, she said in a recent telephone interview, had been a shortage of drivers because of a new certification process, the cost of fuel and maintenance.

But there was concern expressed by recently elected board members that increasing the fees was unnecessary and would also cause the cancellation of field trips by some Bloomfield schools without the fundraising ability of other schools in the district.

Michael Heller, a former board member who was returned to the board following the November elections, said he had heard about the increase as a candidate and how some home and school associations would not be able to raise the extra funds.

“Some home and school associations have great ability to fund enrichment programs while other are pressed,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “I’m glad the administration reversed course. The former board evidently didn’t realize the impact it would have.”

Before the November elections, Heller said he had spoken at a board meeting. He said he told the board it was unnecessary to increase the fees because the district was to receive additional transportation funding from the state that would easily cover any increased costs.

He said last year there were approximately 200 bus rentals at $300 which generated a revenue of $60,000 in bus fees. Increasing the bus fees an additional $100 to $400 would generate a revenue of $80,000 or $20,000 more. But with the additional state funding factored in, Heller argued that the district had $240,000 extra to pay bus fee costs.
“I think they realized they could reduce the fees,” he said. “They really did the right thing.”

Benjamin Morse, another former Bloomfield BOE member who returned to the board last month, said that when he heard about the increase he thought back to when he was the Watsessing Home and School Association president four years ago and the difficulties in fundraising. He estimated the Watsessing Home and School had to raise $10,000 annually to cover costs for enrichment programs including field trips.

“It was a struggle,” he said.
One of Morse’s campaign promises was that he would support a decrease in bus fees. It was an equity issue, he said, with some home and schools having bigger budgets that could absorb the increase. But in theory, a $100 increase in bus fees would mean an additional $1,000 which the Watsessing Home and School would need to raise.
“How many Yankee Candles can you sell?” he said.

Shane Berger, another former Bloomfield BOE member who was returning to the board this year, said that as soon as he was elected he spoke to Fischman about the increase.

“She said we’d work on it and she kept her word,” he said in a recent telephone interview.
When first learning about the increase, Berger said he was disappointed.

“It created an equity issue,” he said. “The only thing you can do is get elected and work on it.”
He cited a number of board members who worked on having the fees decreased and included Heller and Morse. He called the new bus fee resolution a team effort.

In an email to The Independent Press, the board attorney, Nicholas Dotoli said that he did not have any details or reports of cancelled trips by schools due to the increased fee.

“But I was aware of concerns from various home and school associations that the increased fee may have resulted in future cancellations,” he said.

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