BATON ROUGE, La. — Pupil transporters may not be forced to comply with a recently passed bill that requires older school buses to be retrofitted with crossing arms. The reason: a lack of funding.
State lawmakers chose not to set aside funds for the legislation after Gov. Kathleen Blanco signed it in July.
Larry Ourso, a Lousiana Department of Education consultant involved in pupil transportation, said that a state constitutional amendment appears to exempt school districts from spending on unfunded mandates.
Still, Ourso said that his agency is working to find funding for crossing-arm retrofits and is recommending that school districts carry them out if they can.
“We’re strongly encouraging the districts to get the buses retrofitted,” Ourso said. “We’re moving forward in a positive way.”
The recently passed bill requires school buses purchased before Jan. 1, 1996, to be retrofitted with a driver-activated crossing arm. An estimated 2,000 buses bought before that date are still in service. State law has required buses purchased since that date to be equipped with the safety devices.
The bill was prompted by two school bus danger zone accidents earlier in the year in which 5-year-old students were killed. Crossing arms extend from the front bumper of the bus to make children cross farther in front, where the driver can see them better.
Rep. Mike Walsworth, a sponsor of the legislation, said in an interview with The Advocate that while he understands the uncertainty on whether school systems must carry out the retrofitting, they should still do so for the sake of bolstering safety.
“I would hate to be the system that does not have that [device] knowing it would save lives,” Walsworth told The Advocate. “I would hate to be that system out there that took that gamble, and I don’t think any system will.”
The funding predicament recalls Louisiana’s 1999 passage of a bill requiring seat belts on school buses. The legislation would have gone into effect in 2002, but lawmakers failed to fund it.