Bill to transport high schoolers on city buses moves forward

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JEFFERSON CITY - Columbia leaders were at a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday to hear more about a plan to bus some students on city transit.

Rep. Chuck Basye R-Rocheport is sponsoring a bill that would allow school districts to partner with cities to get high schoolers to school.

Columbia School Board member Jonathan Sessions said the bill has the support of the school board and Columbia City Council.

He said the board is interested in "how we might be able to work with the community and work with the city to strategically align some bus routes to work within our attendance areas." 

Sessions said there is no current plan for how it would work in Columbia. Right now, leaders are just hoping the bill passes.

Sessions said there are safety concerns with the idea of high schoolers riding the transit system, instead of a school bus, but, he said, the bill provides ways to stay safe.

The bill would require all transit buses to have the same safety precautions of school buses. The drivers would have to have the same training, there would be a section in the bus just for students and there would be a monitor looking after the students.

Jenny Agee is a Teamster for Local 955 in Kansas City, she represents 100 school bus drivers. 

“We know them, we know how our kids are taken care of, we know how these drivers are trained, we know how they care," she said.

Agee is concerned the the safety precautions fall short.

“I do not think a monitor alone is enough, especially when you’re mixing those kids in with all the people who ride public transit, you don’t know who’s on there," she said.

Sessions noted the students riding these buses would be between the ages of 14 and 18. He said neither he nor the school board would do anything they thought would put a student in danger.

Sessions said the goal would be to provide the same amount of training for both types of bus drivers, so the transit bus driver would be able to do the job of the school bus driver.

If the bill passes and a plan is put together, Columbia Public Schools stand to save a lot of money.

Right now, Sessions said CPS spends about $12 million a year on school transportation. Of that, $10 million is state required. The extra $2 million is spent on miscellaneous needs.

Sessions said the state should reimburse CPS for about 75% of that $10 million, but it typically gets only about $2 million in reimbursements.

He said transportation money CPS does not get reimbursed for is taken from other places, like classrooms.

“So when we talk about saving money from a public school's standpoint, we’re talking about putting money that should be in the classroom back into the classroom," he said.

Sessions said the bill could also help with CPS and Columbia's lack of bus drivers.

He said CPS is usually 10 to 20 drivers short, and drivers often switch back and forth from working for the city to working for the school district. He said the plan will not cost jobs.

"We’ve maybe reduced the need for drivers, but we’re not reducing the number of drivers.”