Suzanne Stewart\r\nStaff Writer\r\n\r\nThe Pocahontas County Board of Education has a binder full of policies it follows and maintains. Every so often, those policies are reviewed and placed on public comment to see if any changes are recommended to better serve the school system.\r\n\r\nCurrently, the Field Trips and Excursions Policy is on comment and is in the process of undergoing changes that, once approved, may lead to schools changing the types and number of field trips taken each year.\r\n\r\nDirector of Transportation Ruth Bland voiced her concerns at a recent board meeting and later explained that, with less funding coming from the state, the school system needs to reevaluate the amount of travel done each year.\r\n\r\n\u201cWhat we\u2019re going to have to look at is the number of trips that schools are taking per year,\u201d Bland said. \u201cOne school had forty-four trips. That was with their basketball trips, but you\u2019re thinking about twelve to fifteen basketball trips. Do you say \u2018if you\u2019re going to do a fun trip,\u2019 do we charge them more? That\u2019s a discussion that I have to have with the board members to see where we want to go with that.\u201d\r\n\r\nAs the policy stands now, the schools are charged $50 plus $1 per mile to use a bus for a trip \u2013 be it an athletic, in-county, out-of-county or overnight trip. While that does help with the cost of upkeep for the buses, it is not nearly what the actual trip costs in the end.\r\n\r\n\u201cTechnically, for a field trip \u2013 you\u2019re paying the driver\u2019s pay, the substitute\u2019s pay and the mileage, and when we talk about mileage, we\u2019re also talking wear and tear on the bus, not just the fuel,\u201d Bland said. \u201cYou\u2019ve got to think in there, too, if something goes wrong with the bus, then we have to figure in the mechanic\u2019s time and pay in there, too.\u201d\r\n\r\nBland\u2019s suggestion to review the policy comes from the reduction in funding from the West Virginia Department of Education, which is being felt by all sections of the board of education.\r\n\r\nAt one time, the WVDE reimbursed school systems 110 percent of the transportation costs. That number has been reduced and is determined by a seven-page formula which takes into account the square acreage of a county and the number of students enrolled in the system.\r\n\r\nDue to a sparsity clause \u2013 in which counties with fewer than five net students per square mile are given extra consideration \u2013 Pocahontas County gets reimbursed 95 percent for all transportation costs.\r\n\r\n\u201cIf you just did the formula \u2013 ours are seventy-seven-passenger buses \u2013 so if you took the student population and divided it by seventy-seven, that would be thirteen buses,\u201d Bland explained. \u201cWe use eighteen. We have one point, one student per square mile.\u201d\r\n\r\nOther than using school buses for field trips, schools do have the option of using private vehicles or raising money to rent chartered buses, which they often do.\r\n\r\n\u201cThey can still do that,\u201d she said. \u201cIt has to be approved through this office. The county board of education has the liabilities, so they have to know who is off of school property and when. The first place it goes is to the principal. If the principal approves it, then it hops to my office, then I approve it, and then it goes to the secretary so she can do the invoicing and assign the driver.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe schools have personnel trained to use a program called Travel Tracker and all field trips must be entered in the program for review. When using personal vehicles for a trip, the names of the drivers must be included, as well as the names of students riding in each vehicle.\r\n\r\nEven on school bus trips, a list is made containing all the students\u2019 names and which seat they are assigned to, in case of emergency.\r\n\r\n\u201cA roster has to be done for every trip,\u201d Bland said. \u201cIt has to be in place at the school office, and it has to be given to the bus driver. The bus driver actually attaches that roster to the back of his trip sheet so we know which children were on that bus and which seat they sat in. That\u2019s the very first thing \u2013 if there is an accident \u2013 that\u2019s the very first thing that law enforcement will ask for, your trip manifest and where the children were sitting.\u201d\r\n\r\nIn reviewing the policy, Bland said she doesn\u2019t want to limit the experiences students have, but at the same time, she has to make sure there is enough money in the transportation budget to keep the buses in great condition and ready for any type of weather.\r\n\r\n\u201cI don\u2019t want to deny kids any type of experience,\u201d she said. \u201cWhen I was principal, I wanted kids to go places. I wanted them to learn about what is happening out in the world, but when it comes time for financial stewardship, we have to be very careful about what we do.\r\n\r\n\u201cSo what is a frivolous trip?\u201d she continued. \u201cGoing to a movie and eating pizza \u2013 is that frivolous? Going to the bowling alley \u2013 is that a frivolous trip? I don\u2019t know. You have to understand that there\u2019s a percentage of those students that are going who have never been to a movie, have never been to a sit down restaurant. You have to balance what experiences you want your kids to have with the money that you have available.\u201d\r\n\r\nBland said she hopes the public will take a moment to review the policy and give their opinions and suggestions to improve the way trips are handled.\r\n\r\n\u201cI welcome people to give us an idea of what they want,\u201d she said. \u201cI also want people to understand that this county system has provided a whole lot of things for kids, because there are counties out there that do not permit the children to have field trips.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe policy is online at\u00a0pocahontas-k12.wv net. edu\/boe\/\u00a0under the Policies on Comment button. Paper copies are also available at the board office.\r\n\r\nThe policy is currently on comment for 30-days, but that time may be extended if the board receives a lot of responses.