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August 27, 2013  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

New Jersey district embraces new ideas and saves big

Medford Township Public Schools continually seeks out opportunities to grow its sustainability practices, reduce transportation costs and generate revenue, which have been accomplished through such initiatives as a solar project, shared bus service and running vehicles on biodiesel. From the solar project alone, the district has realized savings of $300,000 annually.

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  • Earlier this year, Medford Township Public Schools began an advertising agreement with Murphy’s Marketplace, which Director of Operations and Technology Joe Biluck Jr. says will generate $48,000.
    <p>Earlier this year, Medford Township Public Schools began an advertising agreement with Murphy’s Marketplace, which Director of Operations and Technology Joe Biluck Jr. says will generate $48,000.</p>
    Shared service saves on bus purchases   

Medford Township is not immune to the challenges that other districts face. Several years ago, four of the district’s buses were required to be retired due to their age, but funding for new buses was not available.

This prompted officials to reach out to a nearby vocational and technical high school district that serves high school students and adult learners; that district did not have enough bus drivers to satisfy the routes.

Under a shared service agreement that was drafted, Medford Township Public Schools provides the drivers to operate the other district’s routes, and in return, the latter district allows Medford Township to use its fleet of vehicles.

“That eliminated our need to buy school buses, and they pay us to maintain those buses and to provide the drivers to satisfy their routes,” Biluck says, adding that the districts are in their third year of shared service. Under the initial agreement, Medford Township saved around $250,000.

Bus advertising to generate revenue
In addition to cost-saving measures, Medford Township Public Schools has taken steps to generate revenue through school bus advertising. Earlier this year, the district secured a four-year sponsorship agreement with a local food marketing firm — Murphy’s Marketplace — and they worked together to develop ads for the district’s buses.

Under New Jersey law, ads for tobacco or alcohol products or for political advocacy are prohibited, as are any other advertisements for products or services or by sponsors that the commissioner of education deems inappropriate.

Fifty percent of any revenue generated by the sale of advertising space must be used by the local board of education to offset the cost of fuel for providing pupil transportation services. The remaining 50% of the revenue can be used to support any programs and services the board deems appropriate.

Biluck says the discussion to advertise on school buses began in 2007-08, when state aid for districts was significantly reduced. The agreement with Murphy’s Marketplace will generate a total of $48,000 for the district.

Biluck acknowledges the concern that some in the pupil transportation community have regarding the potential for advertisements to cause a distraction for motorists.

“That definitely came up during our correspondence with state legislators and as we were providing testimony as the legislation made it through the subcommittees,” he says. “The law is sensitive to that concern, and that’s why there are areas on the exterior of the bus that are off-limits for ads, including the back of the bus, so that as motorists are approaching the bus as kids are loading or off-loading, their attention’s not drawn to an ad. The advertisers have to put their decals on the sides of the buses at a point that’s below the line of sight.”

School board support is essential
Biluck says the success of the projects and partnerships that Medford Township Public Schools has developed has been contingent upon support from the district’s school board.

“The board gives us the necessary freedom to go out and investigate potential opportunities and bring those recommendations to them for review, providing justification for the opportunities, the positive impacts to the district, etc.,” he explains. “The board acknowledges that this is part of our responsibility and we have the best interests of the district at heart.”

Biluck notes that it is not always easy to gain support from a school board for new ideas, and he says that Medford Township Public Schools’ board has not always given the green light to his proposals.

However, the board has been largely supportive, and Biluck says he’s been able to achieve this positive working relationship by getting an understanding of the board’s priorities and coming up with ways that those priorities can “merge” with the opportunities that he believes would benefit the district.  

“Once you understand their concerns and look at things from their perspective, you can develop a workable game plan,” Biluck says.  

Fleet Facts

School buses: 52
Transportation staff: 75
Students transported: 3,500
Schools served: 7
Area of service: 42 square miles

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