"I do not believe there is anything else we can do but start to charge those parents who can afford to have their children bused up to Clark," said board member Mary Boger. "We really do need people who sign up for the bus to ride the bus, and this may encourage them to do so."
Administrators from Clark could not be reached for comment.
Board member Nayiri Nahabedian said Clark Magnet students told her they have already been pinched by fees on summer school and vending machines.
"Everything is costing them, it feels like, even though logically, it might not be that much," Nahabedian said. "There are parents who are so poor that the $50 or $100 is going to make a difference to them, and especially if it needs to be paid all at once."
School board members considered a $100-fee per semester, but opted to split it over two semesters.
"We've got a huge nut to fill and we have to do it piece by piece," said board President Greg Krikorian, who has a child enrolled at Clark. "I look at this as part of a shared responsibility, as we said to the union leadership, as we said about energy conservation, as we've said about every item."
The new fee-based system will likely cut down on the number of students who sign up for the busing, but who don't ride often, putting an unnecessary drain on district finances, said the school's principal, Doug Dall.
"One of the things to keep in mind is that people sign up for buses sometimes with no intention of riding them. They really need skin in the game," he said. "If they pay a little money, it makes them make a commitment to the bus process so they are going to be on those buses."
And once the district has a tally of students who are committed to paid bus service, officials may be able to adjust routes to be more cost efficient, they said.
Many students have signed up for bus service, but do not ride the bus regularly, Incoming Supt. Dick Sheehan said.
"We think if we do offer at a cost, we will be able to zone in on the number of true riders we have and actually make adjustments to the routes," he said. "If enough kids drop off, that'd be one less bus, and if you took a bus off the line, that'd be more significant savings."
District officials were instructed to examine ways in which families could structure the payment during a semester, rather than pay everything up front.
Sheehan said bus routes were still being developed, and it could be a semester of adjustments before a final route and fee plan were in place.