LANSING, Mich. - Gov. Jennifer Granholm's recent signing of the state's K-12 school aid budget has created an air of uncertainty among the pupil transportation community in regard to how operations will be able to continue to run their school buses. The budget was approved without the $1.4 million necessary for the Michigan State Police's school bus inspection program.
Karen Losch, executive director of the Michigan Association for Pupil Transportation (MAPT), told SBF in an interview that state law says that members of the Michigan State Police Motor Carrier Division must inspect and certify each school bus annually and that a school or a school bus owner must not operate or permit the operation of a school bus that has not been inspected.
"The official funding for the program ended on Sept. 30. The state police have been continuing to provide the service for the month of October out of dollars that they're allocating out of their internal budget," Losch said.
A letter from Capt. Robert Powers of the Michigan State Police that was sent to MAPT and school administrators statewide indicated that effective Nov. 1, the department will no longer be conducting inspections. (Members of the School Bus Inspection Unit will be placed on layoff status effective Oct. 31.)
Losch said that school buses that have already been inspected this year are permitted to run until next year when their inspections would be due. The letter from Powers advises operations that have not yet had their buses inspected this year to seek guidance from legal counsel in regard to whether they can operate their buses on Nov. 1 and thereafter.
Upon learning of the cessation of funding for the inspection program, the MAPT, in conjunction with several other state associations - including the Michigan Association of School Boards, the Michigan Association of School Administrators and the Michigan School Business Officials - held a School Bus Inspection Summit. The purpose was to discuss the liability state school bus operations face with the elimination of the program and to draft an action plan to combat the problem.
"On Oct. 22, the summit attendees petitioned the governor's office to extend the deadline date of Oct. 31 30 to 60 days so that we can sit down and figure out what can be done if the legislature is not going to reallocate the $1.4 million to continue the program," Losch explained.
Moreover, mandamus legal action is being considered as a class action suit for impacted school districts that would provide a jurisdictional court order to continue the inspection program until a resolution is developed through the legislative process. Losch said several school districts are considering filing the lawsuit.
Finally, the associations are communicating with state legislators in an effort to have the funding restored for the school bus inspection program.
"We've been in conversation with legislators since the middle of the summer when the funding for the program wasn't put back into the state's budget," Losch said.