GOP Budget Cuts Are Endangering Michigan’s Children
The grades are in, and they’re not good.
Under the requirements found in Michigan’s Pupil Transportation Act, as spelled-out in the Michigan State Police School Bus Inspection Manual, the state police department issues annual ratings on the condition of school buses.
The scoring falls into three categories: pass, yellow, and red:
With a statewide failure rate of 10.2 percent, about 50 districts are in a very bad way, having a significant portion of their fleet, large or small, found to be in serious disrepair. More buses have flunked each year since Gov. Snyder took office. For the 2011-12 school year, 7.6 percent didn’t pass, and that increased to 9.5 percent the following year.
The problem is two-fold.
Michigan schools have been starved of funding under the Snyder administration. Yes, the governor can brag, as he surely does, that technically speaking, he increased education funding during his first term. But, those modest increases went towards underfunded retirement costs, and after inflation is factored-in, real school funding is down considerably.
The second contributing situation is the poor condition of Michigan’s roads, which, unless drivers possess a flying car, have put an undeniable dent in the motoring budget. School buses aren’t immune to the wear and tear brought-on by roadways riddled with cavernous potholes that would surely rival that of a war zone.
To earn a “Red Tag” from the state requires the vehicle to be in a state of gross disrepair. Some examples of unacceptable conditions are:
- Floor pan or inner panels have perforated areas or openings. Any floor or body panel opening through to the exterior of the vehicle.
- Absence of effective braking action upon application of the service brakes.
- Missing or loose bolts on motor mount cross members sufficient to allow cross
member to shift or move.
- Any emergency door, roof hatch or window that does not open freely or completely
- A fuel tank not securely attached to the vehicle.
- Any missing window in the vehicle.
- No operative stop lamps or tail lamps.
Too many of Michigan’s school buses are falling apart, and should be replaced, but at a cost of between $80,000 and $120,000 for a standard Type C or D school bus, districts are instead making do with derelict vehicles.
Of the districts with bus fleets that require serious repairs, only two are among the 48 currently listed on the fiscal distress watch list. Hazel Park Public Schools have 7 of 12 buses either flunking, or teetering on the edge, and Taylor School District needs to send 40 out of 70 of their fleet of clunkers to the shop for critical repairs.
Many of the schools that flunked the inspection are smaller outstate districts which labor under the lowest per pupil funding apportionment, while also burdened with the greatest transportation costs due to serving larger geographic areas — add-on the physical abuse of navigating unpaved rural roads, and the school buses end up becoming a danger to the students and other drivers.
Narrowing it down further, of the approximately fifty districts with transportation troubles, half of them are seriously compromised, with 50 percent or more of their fleet not fully functional. A few of note are: the Lansing Public School District, with 72 of their fleet of 133 buses toe-tagged, and another 17 yellow-lighted; East Lansing Schools similarly can’t use 6 of their 12 aging buses; they are joined by Flushing Community Schools where only 15 out of 38 buses were deemed road worthy; and Chippewa Hills School District was ordered to park 24 of their 47 vehicles.
Bringing up the rear is tiny Vestaburg Community Schools, with their entire bus garage red-lighted by the state police. The mid-state district, with approximately 600 students, has seen its fund balance shrink from $6.5 million in 2007, to a projected balance of under $200,000 for FY 2015. Their Munetrix fiscal rating has gone from low risk to seeing deep red over the next two years. They are a likely candidate to trigger the new GOP law allowing the forced dissolution of small, fiscally distressed school districts.
Money is the only fix for the statewide problem, and we can anticipate renewed calls from the governor’s office and GOP lawmakers for increased privatization of busing service as a means to squeeze a few extra nickels and dimes out of shrinking school funds. However, even the premier private vendor in the state, Dean Transportation, is having trouble with their combined fleet of 239 buses — 16 percent were flagged by the state police, with 11 percent of them deemed unsafe.
Check-out how your district fared, click here for the full report.
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