9 votes shy of a load

Steve Hirano, Editor/Associate Publisher
Posted on April 1, 2004

Nine votes. That’s what it came down to in Macomb, Okla., in a November 2003 bond measure that would have allowed the local school district to purchase three new buses. Three buses doesn’t sound like much, unless your entire operation is only six buses, like at Macomb Public Schools. Then it’s half your fleet. (See Industry News story).

In Macomb, we’re talking about a small city in central Oklahoma with limited resources. The total number of votes cast in the election was 167. The majority of voters (54.8 percent) approved the $150,000 bond, but the measure required a 60 percent margin.

That’s too bad. Although no one wants to see the tax rate increased, the replacement of three 11-year-old school buses is a sensible investment. According to newspaper reports, the additional tax burden created by the bond’s passage would have been nominal (about $16 per $1,000 in property tax) and more than offset by the retirement of an earlier bond.

It’s not the first time this bond measure has failed. According to school officials, this is the second try in the past three years. In the meantime, the fleet continues to age and incur high maintenance costs. As I’ve said many times, it’s not just the mounting maintenance costs of old buses that make it worthwhile to replace them with new buses, it’s also the safety benefit.

Innovations play key role
As we all know, new school buses are safer than older buses in countless ways. They meet the latest federal safety standards, which are revised regularly to bolster school buses’ crashworthiness and occupant protection. It’s also worth noting that new school buses have more efficient engines that emit smaller amounts of air contaminants.

These are important distinctions. We all want our children to be transported to and from school in the safest possible manner, and new buses provide that level of assurance. According to school officials in Macomb, the community doesn’t make that distinction. “As long as the bus comes and picks up my kid, I don’t care what he’s riding in,” is how Gregory Hinkle, Macomb High School’s principal and the district’s transportation director, described the mentality.

That’s a dangerous notion that’s apparently difficult to dislodge. Efforts to push the bond measure to victory were made. Open meetings were held, flyers were sent home and the superintendent met with parents. All for naught, because of nine votes. “I don’t think you can go wrong when you’re spending money on kids’ safety,” said a disappointed Hinkle.

New buses are impressive
In the meantime, many children at the Macomb school district will continue to ride the three 1993 buses rather than the fabulous new models that many of you saw at the National Association for Pupil Transportation’s meeting last November. If the good people of Macomb had been able to travel to Salt Lake City to see these buses on display at the Salt Palace before they voted, I believe the bond measure would have passed.

It’s a shame that the general public isn’t aware of the incremental improvements being made to school buses each year. But all you can do is continue to publicize the great things in your transportation program — and how much greater they could be with new equipment. Maybe another bond measure is in order for the residents of Macomb. After all, the third time could be the charm.

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