Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

The 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.

Currently, 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.

Director 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.

“What we’re going to have to look at is the number of trips that schools are taking per year,” Bland said. “One school had forty-four trips. That was with their basketball trips, but you’re thinking about twelve to fifteen basketball trips. Do you say ‘if you’re going to do a fun trip,’ do we charge them more? That’s a discussion that I have to have with the board members to see where we want to go with that.”

As the policy stands now, the schools are charged $50 plus $1 per mile to use a bus for a trip – 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.

“Technically, for a field trip – you’re paying the driver’s pay, the substitute’s pay and the mileage, and when we talk about mileage, we’re also talking wear and tear on the bus, not just the fuel,” Bland said. “You’ve got to think in there, too, if something goes wrong with the bus, then we have to figure in the mechanic’s time and pay in there, too.”

Bland’s 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.

At 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.

Due to a sparsity clause – in which counties with fewer than five net students per square mile are given extra consideration – Pocahontas County gets reimbursed 95 percent for all transportation costs.

“If you just did the formula – ours are seventy-seven-passenger buses – so if you took the student population and divided it by seventy-seven, that would be thirteen buses,” Bland explained. “We use eighteen. We have one point, one student per square mile.”

Other 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.

“They can still do that,” she said. “It 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.”

The 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.

Even on school bus trips, a list is made containing all the students’ names and which seat they are assigned to, in case of emergency.

“A roster has to be done for every trip,” Bland said. “It 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’s the very first thing – if there is an accident – that’s the very first thing that law enforcement will ask for, your trip manifest and where the children were sitting.”

In reviewing the policy, Bland said she doesn’t 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.

“I don’t want to deny kids any type of experience,” she said. “When 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.

“So what is a frivolous trip?” she continued. “Going to a movie and eating pizza – is that frivolous? Going to the bowling alley – is that a frivolous trip? I don’t know. You have to understand that there’s 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.”

Bland 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.

“I welcome people to give us an idea of what they want,” she said. “I 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.”

The policy is online at pocahontas-k12.wv net. edu/boe/ under the Policies on Comment button. Paper copies are also available at the board office.

The policy is currently on comment for 30-days, but that time may be extended if the board receives a lot of responses.

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