Some local educators are criticizing a new school bus seat belt law as an unfunded mandate as several area districts contemplate bus purchases.

Texas Senate Bill 693, which was passed in June and became law Sept. 1, 2017, requires districts to purchase new model school buses with three-point seat belts, but provides a means for districts to opt out.

The measure does not apply to buses a district already owns or on older bus models, records show.

Clear Creek Independent School District’s board of trustees recently took the opt-out option by voting that the district’s budget “does not permit the district to purchase a bus that is equipped with the seat belts required by this subsection,” according to records.

“The onus is on the state,” Trustee Charles Pond said. “They created this unfunded mandate that will cost us several hundred thousand and expect us to come up with it. It pits money against children. That’s a lousy way to do business.”

Trustees voted to opt out before agreeing to spend $1.75 million on 20 new buses as part of a plan to update the district’s aging fleet.

If trustees hadn’t voted to opt out, the purchase would have cost an additional $131,000, or a total of $1.87 million, said Paul McLarty, the district’s deputy superintendent of business and support services, during the Feb. 26 meeting.

Trustee Laura DuPont said that district officials needed to contact area legislators to speak against unfunded mandates in education.

More and more school boards across Galveston County are fiscally strained and forced to adopt deficit budgets as they struggle with myriad issues. Those include a state system that funnels local tax money to districts with small tax bases, less state funding and the loss of other funding avenues.

A recent joint report by the Texas Association of School Boards and the Texas Association of School Administrators said it was hard to put a definite dollar figure on how much unfunded mandates are costing districts across the state, but said the burden was heavy.

Galveston Superintendent Kelli Moulton said Wednesday the new seat belt law could be viewed as an unfunded mandate, but that she didn’t think her district would vote to opt out.

“In Galveston ISD, we are committed to the safety of all students and will work within our budget to add safety measures where needed,” Moulton said. “GISD Bond 2018 addresses several safety and security measures by choice.”

Galveston voters in May will decide on a $31 million bond referendum, which leaders envision as the first in a two-part plan to improve district facilities.

The May election will not raise the district’s tax rate, officials said.

Included in the May bond referendum is $2.5 million to purchase 20 buses and 15 fleet vehicles and another $410,000 to build a new bus wash and fuel canopy at the district’s transportation center, records show.

Seat belts add about $8,000 to $10,000 to the cost of each bus, Moulton said.

Galveston and Clear Creek school districts are the only ones in Galveston County currently contemplating bus purchases, but officials at other districts said recent measures could factor into future considerations.

“We haven’t discussed this piece of legislation extensively at this point since new buses aren’t on the radar right now, but it’s something we would consider when budgeting when the time comes to make those big purchases,” said Melissa Tortorici, spokeswoman for Texas City Independent School District.

Matt deGrood: 409-683-5230;


(10) comments

Diane Turski

It seems to me that considering the multi-million dollar bond that the residents of CCISD passed last year, it is unconscionable for them to opt out of keeping students safer when ordering new school buses! I agree that the state should fund the schools more appropriately, but until we vote state representatives into office who will improve the current method of school funding, our children should not be treated as expendable pawns.

Chris DeVries

I'm amazed that, in this day and time, we do not already have safety restraints on vehicles transporting children - regardless of the law.

Carlos Ponce

The law is there and I do believe in the rule of law but imagine reality.
Bus Driver stops to pick up Johnny.
Bus driver or bus aide escorts Johnny to his seat and is certain the seat belt is fastened.
Bus Driver or aide returns to seat and fastens own belt.
Alarm goes off indicating seat belt has been removed.
"Okay who took off their seat belt?" No body 'fesses up.
Driver or aide checks each child among the giggles.
Alarm turns off because the culprit has re-buckled.
Driver or aide returns to seat and fastens own belt.
100 yards later, seat belt alarm goes off.
Repeat procedure.
At noon bus pulls into school - LUNCH TIME! Hours of instruction time are gone.
No problems getting home though.
After a few years the legislature passes new law requiring each belt be on computerized sensor to indicate which specific belt has been removed driving the costs even higher.
No alarm on the seat belts you say?
There is always one - "Little Susie".
Susie: "Driver, Driver! Johnny took off his seat belt and is trying to hit me with it!"

Jim Forsythe

Carlos, if a child misbehaves on a bus now, nothing happens?
Since you have supervised children at school , you may know the answer to these questions. these are questions about behaver on the bus now.
If they are in lower grades do they receive no recess, and detention if they are older for misbehaving on the bus?
Will their parents be called to come to school?
Can they be barred from ridding the bus?
Safety should be the most important part.

Carlos Ponce

Children who misbehave on a bus are given a warning, notices sent to his school and parents. Continued misbehavior and the child loses bus riding privileges.
I like the dad who made his child run to school. He monitored the child's progress from his truck. See "Dad Makes ‘Bully’ Son Run To School As Punishment In Viral Video"

Bill Cochrane

Carlos, all of your concerns will (should) go away when Johnny gets kicked off the bus and word gets out there are consequences if the seatbelt rules are broken. That is unless Johnny calls CPS.

Carlos Ponce

"Johnny gets kicked off the bus"
Johnny's parents complain to the school and school board.
Johnny's bus riding privileges are restored.
And they wonder why it's difficult to find school bus drivers.
"GISD struggles with bus driver shortage"
Add to the list FISD, SFISD, DISD, TCISD, CCISD.
"Other districts in the state have had shortages so bad that regular teachers and even a superintendent have been forced to take on bus driving as well."

Bill Cochrane

Shame on Clear Creek Trustees. A budget is a process. When you form a budget, sometimes you have to make concessions. Especially for children's safety. They should restructure the bus purchase. Instead of buying 20 new busses, simply identify the two busses in the best condition and refurbish them. Order 18 busses with seat belts. If the trustees are too lazy to do their job they should step down and let someone that knows how to do a budget handle it.

PD Hyatt

I do wonder how this nation became the greatest nation ever to be. When we were growing up there was consequences for our actions, we did not have seat belts and some how we lived to tell about it. We used to carry guns in our trucks to school and No One was ever shot, and yes that even included carrying a knife to school. There is no way to protect everyone from everything in life even though some seem to think that we can....Of course back then we were allowed to drink out of a water hose and again we have lived to tell about it.... With the way our nation has become I seriously doubt that we could now start to send a man to the moon, build Hoover dam or any of the other great marvels that our nation did back in the day....

Gary Miller

PD! The school I first attended permitted us to bring our guns to school. A gun rack on one side of "home classroom" with ammo shelve on other side. Hunting small game on way home sometimes determined what was for supper. The shooters of today would have avoided these schools because every teacher and student could have been armed and ready to fight. Changes forced by anti gun liberals have not been improvements.

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