With calendar year 2003 drawing to a close, SBF contacted school bus officials from across the United States to assess the current state of the industry and look forward into 2004.

Some states are confronted with issues that don’t carry across their borders, such as changes in specific driver requirements and shuffling of state transportation departments and personnel. However, there are several threads that seem to run through the entire country.

Not surprisingly, major budget concerns are evident in the majority of these reports. The Carpenter bus defects also made repeat appearances, as did student discipline.

Though budgets continue to be slashed, the reports indicate that school bus operators are raising efficiency by taking on extra responsibilities, improving training and still keeping inspection ratings high. Whether the economy turns around or continues its slump, the forecast for safe pupil transportation continues to look positive.

Transportation funding is probably the most critical issue. Due to a shortfall in tax revenue, Alabama school districts are likely $28 million to $30 million short of being funded at their cost levels. Additionally, funding for bus replacement is about $11,000 less than the amount needed per bus.

Another problem is the issue of defective Carpenter bus bodies. With assistance from the Alabama Department of Education, school districts are inspecting and, as necessary, repairing the 277 Carpenter units found in the state. More than half of these buses are ‘94 or ‘95 models, and more than 200 of these buses are owned by five school systems. By the end of the inspection year in January, it’s hoped that all units will have either been removed from service or inspected and repaired.

Submitted by Joe Lightsey, Alabama Department of Pupil Transportation and Driver Education

I see many changes coming in our system of accountability, especially in transportation. I have submitted a proposal to revamp our driver training and school bus inspection system. We are currently writing proposed legislation to create 11 new positions in the office of transportation. If passed, Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) trainers will train all drivers and ADE school bus inspectors will inspect all buses.

During the last school year we had two school bus rollover accidents. One of these resulted in the death of one passenger. Both accidents were driver error. Student discipline played a large role in each accident. The fatal accident occurred when the driver turned around to break up an argument between two passengers. When he turned back around, he was headed off of an embankment.

Several pieces of transportation legislation were introduced in the 2003 regular legislative session. A 15-passenger van bill passed both the House and Senate, but died at the end of the session. Act 219 of 2003 was passed, which prohibits a school bus driver from using a cell phone while the bus is in motion.

Submitted by Mike Simmons, Arkansas Department of Education

These are the key issues that I have included in this year’s National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services state report:


  • Driver retention/recruitment — Use all methods possible to advertise for and retain drivers.


  • Illegal passing — Continue to report. We had a decrease in charges last year, but it may be due to less reporting.


  • School bus discipline — Increase driver and student training/educational materials, upgrade and increase the video cameras being used.


  • Special-education requirements — Add buses and more air conditioning.


  • Charter school transportation — An increased number of schools has increased the overall state transportation costs since it decentralizes the fleets.

    Additionally, homeless transportation requirements have increased significantly. State school transportation funds are being used. We spent about $140,000 last year, and we submitted a budget of about $250,000 for it next year. One school district spent about $9,000 last school year. It spent about $8,000 in September 2003.

    Submitted by Ron Love, Delaware Department of Education

    School transportation budget cuts are the most pressing issue. As a result of state budget deficits and the economy, the 2003 General Assembly reduced school transportation appropriations to local school corporations by 50 percent for fiscal year 2004 and eliminated the appropriation for fiscal year 2005 from the state budget. These cuts amount to approximately $34 million to Indiana’s 294 school corporations.

    Although state funding amounts to typically 20 percent of a school corporation’s transportation budget, the issue is further complicated by the assembly’s action that prevents a school corporation from raising the local property tax levy to offset the shortfall of revenue in state appropriations. Needless to say, school corporations are examining all ways to reduce expenditures while alternatives are explored both at the local and state level.

    Submitted by Pete Baxter, Indiana Department of Education

    Our key issue is the same as most other states, and it’s called funding! Our governor has recently asked for a 2.5 percent across-the-board budget cut, and this of course includes the public school systems. Transportation departments are being slashed to the bone in many areas. The biggest request, or demand, is that routes be cut. Other issues include bus replacement, emissions and driver recruitment. A lot of transportation directors are also being asked to take on additional mechanic or buildings and grounds duties.

    However, the school transportation community in Iowa seems to be quite creative and resourceful in meeting the challenges being thrown its way. Many districts are involving themselves in grant writing as a means of acquiring new buses. The Bus Emissions Education Program is helping to identify areas in which to clean up emissions. And in the area of driver recruitment and route cuts, double routing and making more efficient use of the available people and vehicles have helped to solve many of those problems.

    Submitted by Max Christensen, Iowa Department of Education

    The Kentucky Department of Education’s Division of Pupil Transportation has been moved under the Division of Finance and is now the Pupil Transportation Branch. The branch has updated and revised the driver training instructor’s manual and all corresponding state training forms to comply with the Kentucky administrative regulation changes that became effective in January. Some of the key regulation changes include increasing the minimum training required for new school bus drivers from 18 to 25 hours and allowing Kentucky school buses to travel at the posted speed limit.

    The Kentucky Department of Education has expended an enormous amount of effort in researching the new federally mandated 45 CRF 1310. The Pupil Transportation Branch polled all states in an effort to gather information about this law. Washington was contacted as well as numerous pupil transportation agencies. The department distributed an official position paper to aid school districts in complying with this new Head Start mandate. If any state would like information regarding Kentucky’s findings, contact pupil transportation at (502) 564-4718.

    Submitted by Kyna Koch, Kentucky Department of Education

    The Michigan Department of Education, in cooperation with the Training Agency Association of Michigan (TAAM), is providing a new Supervisor Continuing Education curriculum for the 2004-05 training cycle. Michigan’s Pupil Transportation Act (PA 187) requires all supervisors to obtain six hours of continuing education every two years. The new course is designed to meet the statutory requirement.

    Supervisors will work in groups, be provided with resources (state and federal laws, rules, regulations, legal opinions, etc.) and asked to research and resolve “real life” issues, ranging from simple to complex. Preliminary reviews of the program by the education and training subcommittees of the Pupil Transportation Advisory Committee, the Michigan School Business Officials, the Michigan Association for Pupil Transportation (MAPT) and the TAAM have been overwhelmingly positive. The curriculum will be piloted at MAPT’s fall conference.

    Submitted by Greg Lantzy, Michigan Department of Education

    School bus driver criminal history fingerprint checks were implemented in August. The fingerprint checks are taking two to four weeks to process. The Missouri Department of Revenue has been issuing temporary school bus permits to help with the delay.

    Missouri experienced an unusual number of loading and unloading injuries and fatalities in the 2002-03 school year. Extensive training was done in the summer to educate transportation directors, administrators and school bus driver trainers on the causes of these accidents and prevention strategies.

    Missouri’s school districts and school bus contractors were asked to investigate any Carpenter buses in their fleet for the welding problems. Most school districts have either taken these buses out of service or repaired them.

    Missouri’s transportation funding this year is projected to be reduced by 30 percent of entitlement; next year’s funding is projected to be worse.

    Submitted by Debra Clink, Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
    Funding issues continue to plague our schools. Some areas are in better shape than others, but in some cases, school buildings are being closed in an effort to cut costs. It is difficult to maintain a good level of transportation when funds are short everywhere.

    Driver training continues to be a big issue. Montana implemented a 10-hour training requirement for route drivers. Each route driver must attend 10 hours annually in a driver education program designed and implemented by the school district that meets the needs of the district and the drivers. Districts are beginning to offer county-wide training sessions that last all day.

    Operation Lifesaver, special-education sensitivity and blood-borne pathogens are the hot topics right now. I have some requests for training programs to be designed to help those drivers that might have a student board their bus with weapons.

    Submitted by Maxine Mougeot, Montana Office of Public Instruction

    New Hampshire
    In New Hampshire, we have been blessed over the years to have a close, professional working relationship with regulators and the entire industry as it relates to pupil transportation. As a result, there are only a few “issues.”

    A report just released by the state Office of Highway Patrol and Enforcement indicates the 2003 school bus inspection program was again successful. Over a period of four to five months, state inspectors inspected all 2,696 of the state’s school buses. Ninety-four percent passed on the first try.

    Cpl. Joseph E. Burke has just been named as the new school bus safety coordinator within our Division of Motor Vehicles, a position that has remained open for about four months. Filling this position should help get some of the programs/administration for school buses back on track.

    Submitted by Richard Clough, New Hampshire School Transportation Association

    North Carolina
    The phase-in of the new school bus CDL endorsement is quite different from our old system, where drivers were not required to have a “P” endorsement and were exempted from endorsement fees.

    The state funds school bus replacement in North Carolina. We are now financing the purchase of buses, which generates a lot of paperwork at the state and local level. It has, however, resulted in significant savings for the state by spreading the payments out over three fiscal years. This has kept our replacement program somewhat on schedule.

    All public school districts are converting to new state Department of Transportation software for fleet maintenance. Implementing this has resulted in a lot of work at the state and local level.

    Submitted by Derek Graham, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

    As with many states, Oklahoma’s lack of funding for public education remains our biggest challenge. Although state revenue has increased this year, our 2004 education budget is less than that of previous years. Additionally, the increased cost of fuel has caused many districts to look at cutting school-provided student transportation.

    The increased expense of employing drivers is also an issue of concern to local districts. The Flexible Benefits Act requires districts to pay 100 percent of employee insurance for full-time support staff. Also, the Hour and Wage Commission recently made a ruling concerning mandatory overtime pay for individuals working any position, or combined positions, over 40 hours per week.

    Submitted by Randy McLerran, Oklahoma Department of Education — Transportation Section

    Today’s transportation directors have to be entrepreneurs. They must operate a safe transportation system in an environment of shrinking state funds.

    The state’s per-mile transportation allotment for home-to-school regular- and special-education routes has not changed since 1984. In the mid 1980s, the state paid an allotment average equal to 85 percent of the cost for home-to-school transportation. Now the average is 34.4 percent.

    With continued state budget issues, school transportation takes the back seat in the financial arena. Because the directors do such a good, innovative job, their transportation departments have a good safety record. It is important that we learn how to make legislators aware of the need to improve school transportation without the safety record having to suffer first.

    Submitted by Charley Kennington, Texas Department of Public Safety

    The 2003 legislature passed a bill dedicating $5 million per year for the retrofitting of school buses with diesel oxidation catalysts (DOCs) or particulate traps. The money was sent through the Washington Department of Ecology. The General Administration Office has gone to bid for installation and materials. The age of the buses being targeted in this first year is 1988 to 1995 model year buses. Once these buses are retrofit, money will be spent on DOCs or traps for the newer buses.

    We continue our work with the Washington Traffic Safety Commission to reduce the number of stop arm violators. Last year’s training video for law enforcement officers is being followed up by this year’s training video for the judiciary. (Training is being provided in the proper processing and enforcement of the driver’s report, which can be legally used by law enforcement to write a traffic ticket.)

    Submitted by Allan Jones of the Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction.

    Our state is in a different position than most others. The government has a surplus this year that appears to grow every day. School districts have the same money problems they’ve had for years because no district ever thinks it has enough money. The courts are still sorting out school funding, but it appears they are almost done. As it stands, the state repays school districts 100 percent for maintenance and operation of buses and 100 percent for new buses. That isn’t expected to change.

    We have just begun the second round of our new school bus purchase plan, and it appears to be working as we planned. Districts are saving time by not having to call for bids, and the state is saving money due to the price of buses being kept low.

    Submitted by Leeds Pickering, Wyoming Department of Education

  • Originally posted on School Bus Fleet

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