<p>Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart (second from left) toured Durham's local facility in June. This is one example of a public awareness initiative that promotes the value of pupil transportation.</p>

“Every aspect of the tour enlightened me about all the work that goes into getting our students to school safely.”

Those are the words of Quentin Hart, mayor of Waterloo, Iowa. On June 7, Hart visited Durham School Services’ transportation facility in Waterloo.

The school bus contractor’s local team walked the mayor through daily operations, including pre- and post-trip inspections and child-check procedures. The Durham location transports nearly 5,000 students daily for the Waterloo Community School District.

“My visit was very educational and informative — I was impressed with the Durham team’s dedication to safety,” Hart said.

In a similar effort, the transportation department at Calhoun County (Ala.) School District hosted an open house on June 22 to highlight the complexities of running a school bus operation. School board members, district administrators, other staff, and local media were invited to attend the event.

The department, which runs 154 school buses and transports up to 6,000 students each school day, showed off its 25 new buses and new technology, including video surveillance systems and GPS tablets.

Banyon Allison, the transportation director for Calhoun County (Ala.) School District, told SBF that the idea was to show that school transportation is not just about driving buses.

“I don’t think a lot of people, whether it’s the general public, teachers, [or] other administrators, understand the intricacies of how the operation works,” Allison said. “I was trying to expose not only the educational establishment but also the general public [to the fact] that there is a lot to this.”

The Durham tour in Iowa and the Calhoun County open house in Alabama are great examples of public awareness initiatives that promote the value of pupil transportation. As Banyon Allison’s comments suggested, it’s too easy to take school buses for granted.

Elected officials need to be educated on what’s involved in providing safe and efficient transportation. That knowledge can prove critical at times when their support is needed.

Such was the case recently in New York, where a state senator stepped in to protect the use of animal decals to help young children identify the right school bus to take them home.  

State officials sent school districts across New York a letter that ordered them to remove the decals, asserting that they violated a state law that is intended to keep school buses free of advertising.
Mark White, superintendent of Hermon-DeKalb Central School District, brought the issue to the attention of Sen. Patty Ritchie. The senator contacted the state’s Department of Transportation, and the order was reversed — reportedly within hours.

By contrast, the governor in South Carolina didn’t show the same support for pupil transportation when it came time to approve funding for new school buses. On June 12, Gov. Henry McMaster vetoed $20.5 million in state budget funds that were intended to replace aging buses.

As we reported earlier in the year, South Carolina’s state-owned school bus fleet is one of the oldest in the nation. More than 1,500 of the state’s 5,582 buses are more than 20 years old. Some models were manufactured in 1988 — nearly 30 years ago.

After vetoing $20.5 million of the $28.9 million that lawmakers had included for school buses in the budget, McMaster’s office told The Post and Courier that the governor is concerned about the state’s aging school buses, but that taking surpluses from lottery proceeds, as proposed, is not the way to pay for them.

Even so, I wonder how McMaster would have handled the matter if he had gotten a firsthand look at the state’s elderly yellow buses, many of which have structural and mechanical issues, according to the state superintendent. In other words, would the governor have made school bus replacement a higher priority if he had visited one of the state’s bus yards and been enlightened on what a 1988 model looks like?

I recently experienced my own enlightening tour of a school transportation facility. More on that next month.

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James Blue

James Blue

General Manager

James Blue was the general manager of METRO Magazine.

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