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Basic costs included mandate not in school bus safety ideas

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(The Center Square) — More than a dozen recommendations to improve safety on school buses in Ohio did not come with a mandate, but it did come with some basic costs.

The recently released report lists 17 recommendations ranging from more driver training and professional development to tougher penalties for drivers who violate laws in school zones and around bus drivers.

The Ohio School Bus Safety Working Group stopped short of recommending seat belts on all buses around the state, deciding to leave the decision up to local districts.

New training recommendations would cost $5 million, Gov. Mike DeWine spokesperson Dan Tierney told The Center Square in an email.

Also, the difference in the cost of a new school bus and a bus with all the enhanced safety features recommended is around $13,000. If districts add seat belts to a new bus, that would be an additional $19,000.

The group did recommend the General Assembly and the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce begin discussions on developing a grant program to offset local costs. Tierney said the size of the grant program has yet to be determined and discussions with lawmakers have just begun.

“During the course of the working group’s meetings, we learned about safety features for school buses that can prevent crashes from happening at all,” Andy Wilson, director of the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce, who chaired the working group, said. “We know these features can be costly for school districts, especially for a fleet of buses, and a state-funded grant program can offset those expenses while allowing schools to decide which of these features meet their specific needs.”

The recommendations include the state developing a uniform curriculum for driving training and a regional advanced bus driver training program and working with the General Assembly to offer the training to school districts at no cost.

Other recommendations were improved access to professional development and wellness support for bus drivers, expanded public and parental engagement, school zone and bus route safety audits and enhanced penalties for drivers of other vehicles who violate traffic laws in school zones or around school buses.

Gov. Mike DeWine established the Ohio School Bus Safety Working Group in August after the death of a Northwestern Local School District student who was killed in Clark County after another vehicle collided with his school bus.

In November, three Tuscarawas Valley High School students, a teacher and two chaperones were killed also killed in a five-vehicle crash on Interstate 70 near Columbus.

When a tragedy like this occurs, we owe it to parents and the public to determine if more can be done to prevent it from happening again,” DeWine said. “While studies consistently show that school buses are the safest mode of transportation for students, the working group found that there are things we all can do to make school bus travel safer.”

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