School Bus Fleet

August 2014

A management & maintenance magazine for school transportation fleets

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48 S C H O O L B U S F L E E T • A U G U S T 2 0 1 4 Court: School bus fees unconstitutional (BY MICHAEL MARTIN AND BARRY MCCAHILL) We salute the Indiana Court of Ap- peals for affrming the long-standing position of all in the school bus indus- try that yellow school bus transporta- tion should not be considered an op- tion. It's integral to the school day and learning experience by providing safe, reliable and predictable transportation to and from the school facility. Eliminating or restricting school bus transportation is false economy that triggers many undesirable community outcomes: • Reduced child safety. Students are forced to get to and from school by some other means. Whether walking, bicycling or riding with parents in the family car (or, worse, teens riding with other teens), none is as safe as the big yellow school bus. • Less orderly school day. Without the predictability of school buses, the course of the school day is more com- plicated for teachers and students alike. • Inconvenienced parents. A yellow school bus provides a huge bang for the buck and direct consumer beneft — unequaled convenience for parents and other child caregivers. This is es- pecially true for families in which both parents work outside the home and would have no other way to get their children to school and home. • Increased traffc congestion and emis- sions. School buses are the largest mass transit system in the country. Every yellow school bus you see replaces dozens of cars that otherwise would be on the roads transporting children during rush hours. So, again, we roundly applaud the Indiana Court of Appeals for its com- mon-sense decision that puts the yel- low school bus squarely back where it belongs — as a vital community asset and educational necessity that facili- tates learning by providing the safest and easiest way for children to get to and from their schools. Syndicated columnist Thomas Sow- ell once said, "Balanced budget require- ments seem more likely to produce ac- counting ingenuity than genuinely bal- anced budgets." School bus profes- sionals would agree, especially in recent years as local govern- ments struggle to make budget ends meet (or at least appear to meet), with pupil transporta- tion frequently in the crosshairs. But we'd bet they would also agree with Henry Ford: "When everything seems to be going against you, remem- ber that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it." In a recessionary and often contentious fscal atmosphere, where raising taxes is unpalatable if not impossible politi- cally, there is a lot of newfangled cre- ativity in how budget pies are sliced. Many states require balanced bud- gets; some already have staggering debt to service, tax caps and other ele- ments that impact their operations and fscal policies. Adding to fnancial woes are sky- high fuel costs, federal requirements for improved emissions and safety, and calls from some quarters for voluntarily equipping buses with seat belts. These costs are substantial, and in many juris- dictions so much so that they are unaf- fordable regardless of the merits. When the budget hammer drops on pupil transportation, children and their parents usually take the hit. Some communities are slashing school bus routes, expanding walking distances, firting with allowing com- mercial advertising on/in buses, and delaying new bus purchases. Others are seeking bond referen- dums to raise additional revenue dedi- cated to educational expenses. But this taxing alternative is often fractious and not always successful. Then, there's what Franklin Town- ship in Indianapolis tried after voters declined referendums to raise property taxes to increase revenues for schools: discontinuing their school bus service and contracting with a private frm to transport students, charging parents a fee for the service. The fee was $450 per child per year for the frst student. Each additional child was $405, plus a $20 fee per child. A family with three children would be hit with $1,320 a year for school trans- portation for their children. A new tax by any other name … dis- guised by "accounting ingenuity." Many parents were outraged and fled a class action lawsuit against the school district. In early June, the Indi- ana Court of Appeals ruled that the township violated the state constitu- tion when it discontinued school bus service and contracted with a private frm that charged parents. It's unknown at this writing if the school district will appeal. But if the decision stands, it will prevent other jurisdictions in Indiana from trying the same tactic, and may send a cau- tion signal to districts in other states. The court decided as a premise for the ruling that transportation is part of the public education system (empha- sis added). It cited state requirements that schools must provide bus service for homeless, foster care, special-needs and even some private school students. "It is hard to imagine that the legisla- ture meant to require our school corpo- rations to transport these students but exclude all others," the court said. industry news NAPT news & views Michael Martin is executive director of NAPT. Barry McCahill is president of McCa- hill Communications Inc. and NAPT public affairs consultant.

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