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April 25, 2014  |   Comments (13)   |   Post a comment

Districts are in the transportation business

by Thomas McMahon - Also by this author

Thomas McMahon is executive editor of SCHOOL BUS FLEET.

Thomas McMahon is executive editor of SCHOOL BUS FLEET.

“We are not in the transportation business. We are in the education business.”

That bold statement, by a school board member at a Virginia district, was in a Washington Post article that I came across online last year.

The story described the school board’s decision to cut costs by more uniformly enforcing the district’s existing walking distances, which meant that about 4,000 students would no longer be provided with school bus service because they lived within the walking distances of their schools. (Those students may have been bused in the past due to construction zones or other safety concerns.)

The board member quoted above told the Washington Post that the school board’s priority is to focus resources on the classroom. While that may be true, the statement that the district is “not in the transportation business” seems misguided and even unsettling.

Multiple businesses
Yes, school districts’ primary responsibility is to educate children. But that doesn’t mean it’s their only responsibility.

Keeping kids safe and secure is equally important. In light of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre and other deadly school shootings, can a school district say that it is not in the safety and security business? Certainly not. Furthermore, keeping kids safe and secure extends beyond the classroom, to the playground, the school loading zone, the school bus, etc.

What about making sure that students get a good breakfast and lunch? When many kids don’t get enough to eat at home, can a school district say that it’s not in the nutrition business?

I’ve heard some school bus contractors, in making a case for districts to outsource their school bus service, use lines that are similar to what that Virginia board member said — that school districts should be in the education business, not the transportation business.

But even if a district decides to outsource all of its bus service to a private company, it’s still the district’s responsibility to make sure that the contractor is keeping the district’s students safe, properly maintaining the buses and meeting other requirements.

Pupil transportation — in other words, making sure that students can actually get to school so the teachers can teach them — is still a part of the overall service that the district provides for the public, even if someone else is running the buses for the district.

Parents’ perspective
In the case of the Virginia school district, parents did not agree that the district is “not in the transportation business.”

The Washington Post reported that about 100 parents had filed appeals because their children would not be able to ride the school bus anymore.

One local mother put the issue into harsh words when she told the newspaper, “The school system has washed its hands of the responsibility for my kids’ safety” in getting to and from school.

Clearly, parents expect school districts to be in the transportation business, and they’re not going to let that business go without a fight.

In an upcoming editorial, I’ll discuss a related topic: the problems that arise when school bus service is cut.

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Read more about: budget cuts, parent disputes, public image, school board, Virginia, walking distance

What ever happened to personal responsibility and self-reliance? Are you willing to pay more taxes or a daily fee for bus service? Or would you complain about that too? Remember when JFK said "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."? If you want your child feed before school, then get up earlier and feed them yourself!

Bob H.    |    Apr 28, 2014 06:56 AM

As a Transportation Manager all I can say you are preaching to the choir. School bus transportation touches all areas of the education process. We have an effect on attendance, safety, we are even sometimes the only contact some parents have with the school system. School bus drivers are responsible for the safety and care of the children placed in their charge and most take great pride in what they do. We are in the transportation business because we only provide daily transportation but we are in the charter business because we provide fieldtrips. We are in the transportation business because we either repair or oversee repairs of our vehicles. We are in the transportation business because we develop routes and schedules just like any city transit operation.

Charles Glenn    |    Apr 28, 2014 08:31 AM

I understand what this board member is trying to say, however not only are school district's in the transportation business they are also in the food industry, the recycle business, and the medical business just ask any secretary who administers medication on a daily basis. Anyone in the school support staff must understand that when there is talk of cuts it will always start from the farthest point from the classroom. Meaning transportation and utility crews. Extra curricular is never talked about during reduction of expenses and the last that I heard having the state champion has nothing to do with how well a school performs on standardized tests. Unfortunately, transportation will be reconsidered or changed when a child gets killed to or from school then the school will be in the business of spiritual healer and attorney's at law.

Barry    |    Apr 28, 2014 08:43 AM

As a Transportation supervisor, I can agree somewhat with the comments about breakfast. But remember, we are also dealing with very low income families as well and breakfast maybe a critical meal for many students. As far as Transportation, yes, every school district is in the transportation business, I use our own fleet and 4 contractors for our students, We oversee everything, plus we have budgets to deal with that comes from the tax payers. We have to run this like a business and be efficient. Nobody can give me a good debate that we are not in the transportation business. Take transportation away and find out what happens. It would not be pretty.

Phil Manktelow    |    Apr 28, 2014 08:58 AM

That is the problem that you have with educators as superintendents and board members who have their own personal agenda. Transportation is a business, as well as education. While educating children is the product, running a district is a business and should be run that way. That is part of the reason why charter schools are successful (certainly not the only reason). In the hands of an experienced business person, the transportation department, maintenance department, food service department, and community education department can operate more efficiently, at a lower cost, and much better customer satisfaction. I know because our district did just that and have been recognized nationally.

Bob Streeter    |    Apr 28, 2014 09:42 AM

I have a thought on this. I think we need to look at how many of those students are going to make it to school on a daily basis. Is it possible that they may not go to school because it is to far to walk. Statistics show that students are 4 times safer on a school bus than riding with mom or dad to school, and 40 times safer than riding with another teen driver to school. School Board Members need to remember education is the whole picture not just the education.

Dan P.    |    Apr 28, 2014 10:01 AM

About school nutrition,how many of the student's parents get food stamps? Is the allowance for meals include the five days the student is in school? If it does, then the parent is getting food for possible breakfast & lunch while the child is getting free/reduced breakfast & lunch at school. (double money) The majority of people who support the school system do not have a child in the system & the majority of those people unfortunately do not pay attention to what the school board is doing. Education is a business and people should be more accountable with the funds. There would be money for transportation & education.

Dawn S    |    Apr 28, 2014 10:29 AM

The majority of employees in the school transportation business love what they do because they love children and care about their welfare and their future. We are in the transportation business because we want to ensure that the rest of the education community is successful in their "business". The only way we will ever be truly recognized for the importance of what we do is if we decide not to do so. And that will never happen because we care and we refuse to fail. We are all partners in our endeavor to prepare today's students to be tomorrow's leaders.

Alan Heard    |    Apr 28, 2014 12:32 PM

There is nothing that I am aware of that doesn't revolve around transportation. This includes any and all public school systems. People who think that it doesn't involve transportation have little to nothing to do with the dailey operations of a school bus facility of anykind. I've been involved with public school transportation in some form or another for going on 30 years. I've seen school bus industry improvements all my 29 - 30 years that no one can measure how many lives such improvements have saved. How would you put any price on all those lives saved. Maybe the reason some don't have a clue about transportation issues is because of all the many people who do their jobs well day in and day out and there are no real issues caused by these good people. You don't fix something that is working well. Keep the politics out of transportation or do "your" home work before making an observation of something you know little or nothing about. Dan - Indiana.

Dan Luttrell    |    Apr 28, 2014 01:19 PM

Here in Illinois our Governor is on record as saying this just before he cut transportation payments to districts by 50%. "It is the parents responsiblity to get their children to school." This Governor has cut funding and not paid schools all their yearly funds for the last 8-10 years.

Douglas    |    Apr 29, 2014 04:28 AM

A much needed subject! The board member is correct! Schools are about education-not transportation. Schools that own, control and provide transportation for its students generally lack in practical experience/knowledge. Private carriers is the better answer in that it deals with transportation in particular and avoids the politics and personal agendas so often found in 'board' run transportation departments. To see the needed changes, parents & taxpayers must get involved in the decision making process. It's our money, our children and they do work for us!

AL    |    Apr 29, 2014 06:25 AM


AL    |    Apr 30, 2014 05:10 AM

At best - school employees must communicate with a balance sheet in mind. You don't run a business the way some schools operate. Checks and balances are there to police what is working and not working. With added cost of doing business nothing has came down in the way of prices. How many of us have cut back on purchasing things that we don't really have to have anymore. Most of us. So when a board meeting takes place and board members do not have all the facts then they will start cutting and approving discontinued services on high expenses. The ripple effect is usually noticed afterwards. Maybe we should all be prepared to do more with less or start seeking employment elsewhere. I've seen many good people come and go based upon what school boards decide. It is not easy for any involved to have to discontinue employment because the monies are simply not there anymore. The economy does not generate enough taxes for our school systems any longer. I pray that our school buses remain in as safe a condition as possible and no one decides to cut corners on the level of high standards associated with our school bus fleets. Keep the conversation going on the balance sheet of running a school system. Everything cost money. Schools providing services is no different. Business owners would not allow some purchase practices that keep schools in the red. You have purchase order paper trails for a reason. Follow the money spent and by whom. Control the spending and make due with what we have until things change. Dan - Indiana.

Dan Luttrell    |    May 02, 2014 05:03 AM

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