Districts are in the transportation business

Thomas McMahon
Posted on April 25, 2014
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.

Related Topics: budget cuts, parent disputes, public image, school board, Virginia, walking distance

Thomas McMahon Executive Editor
Comments ( 13 )
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  • Dan Luttrell

     | about 5 years ago

    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.

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