2007-06-14 / News

Bill would save on out-of-district bus costs

The House of Representatives this week approved legislation that is expected to provide savings for school districts by allowing them to use vehicles other than full-size school buses to transport students.

The bill, 2007-H 6371, would allow school districts to use a variety of different vehicles for transporting children - small-size buses, vans, SUVs, etc. It would also establish specialized safety features for any vehicle employed for transporting school children.

The bill would also set up appropriate specialized licensing for drivers of these vehicles. Specifi- cally, the license would be more akin to a chauffeur's license than that for driving large buses, but by virtue of being a chauffeur license, the applicant for the driving position would be subject to a criminal records check and testing by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

"Current state law requiring schools to use full-size buses to transport students - whether 60 on their way to class or 10 on their way to an out-of-district private or parochial school - simply stands in the way of school districts saving money," said Rep. Bruce J. Long (R-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown).

"With schools already under the financial gun, we shouldn't be requiring them to do something that is inefficient, both economically and environmentally," said Long. "Schools need to find ways to cut costs and this legislation provides one sensible way. It will save school districts money - if they choose to take advantage of it - without jeopardizing the safety of the children being bused," he added.

School Committee chairwoman Cathy Kaiser said, "We are encouraged that the House has approved Rep. Long's bill- it's a change for which the Jamestown School Committee has been actively lobbying for several years."

"To realize the impact that this will have statewide," Kaiser said, "just park outside any private school or special education facility and watch the number of fullsize buses that pull up transporting only a handful of students."

Jamestown currently has three buses that make runs with less than eight students, Kaiser noted.

"Legislation allowing transportation by smaller vehicles is long overdue," Kaiser said.

The House bill now goes to the Senate, which last week passed a similar bill sponsored by Sen. John J. Tassoni Jr. (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Smithfield). That bill, 2007-S 0556Aaa, is currently before the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare.

The legislation has received the support from the Rhode Island Association of School Committees as well as the Rhode Island Department of Education.

"Transportation is a large portion of school expenses, what with all the various bus runs that must be made for children in our schools - out of district, to special education programs, to sporting events. With many of those buses practically empty, requiring big buses is the ultimate in inefficiency and waste," said Rep. Long. "State laws that force that on local taxpayers need to be changed."

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