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.
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.
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.