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The wheels on the van go round and round



Published: Thu, August 23, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Ohio Department of Education and the legislature's Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review have 90 days to arrive at a reasonable accommodation on the issue of using vans rather than school buses to transport small groups of students to extra curricular activities.

That should be plenty of time, as long as all involved keep their eyes on the ball.

The goal of both should be to provide necessary transportation for small groups of students safely and economically.

Backfire: That was the idea behind a proposal by state Sen. Priscilla D. Mead of suburban Columbus, who wanted to broaden the use of vans for student transportation. The Department of Education submitted a proposal to the rules committee that a district be allowed to use a van whenever it couldn't "reasonably" provide a full-sized bus.

But the committee found that overly broad and a requirement that drivers receive just four hours of special instruction too lax. It rejected the policy, leaving school districts unable to use vans anytime for anything.

The vans are an important part of many school districts' fall and spring sports programs. Columbus city schools came within days of canceling their golf season. Across the state anecdotal evidence quickly piled up showing what could happen if school districts were prohibited from using vans. A cheerleading squad at Wayne High School near Toledo had to sign a last-minute charter for a bus to take the squad to a camp in Scranton, Pa., at a cost of more than $3,000.

Golf courses that hosted pre-season tournaments found their parking lots filled with large yellow buses, each of which brought six or eight players to the course.

Intervention: That's when Taft stepped in and used his power as governor to issue an emergency rule allowing the continued use of vans for 90 days while the Department of Education and the committee work things out.

One of the most vociferous critics of the vans has been Ohio Association of Public School Employees, the union that represents bus drivers.

In questioning whether four hours is enough training for a van driver, the union makes a good point. That doesn't sound like much.

But when the union demands that van drivers have the same commercial license that school bus drivers hold, we have to wonder. Is that just a prelude to demanding that school districts use only union members to drive vans?

This dispute should be resolved on the basis of providing safe, economical transportation for students, not on the question of union jurisdiction.

School districts should not be putting students in harm's way, and no responsible school administrator is going to do so. At the same time, huge buses are not needed to take small groups of students from point A to point B.

With that in mind, it shouldn't take nine days, much less 90 days, for the joint committee and the state school board to reach a sensible compromise. If they don't as the deadline approaches, perhaps Taft could issue an executive order to place the 10 committee members and a like number from the Department of Education on a big yellow bus, which would drive up and down Interstate 71 until an agreement was reached.




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