POLAND — There are differing opinions in Regional School Unit 16 concerning the number of students who should be allowed to ride in a school bus.
While 77 is the posted seating capacity in many buses, some officials and drivers think that is too many to ensure student safety.
At Thursday night’s meeting of the RSU 16 board of directors, school officials and bus drivers seemed to agree 77 students in one bus is a lot.
Fred Barlow, the district’s transportation director, and Craig Worth, director of operations, said RSU 16 adheres to state laws and manufacturers’ specifications when deciding how many students are allowed to ride a bus at one time.
If state law and bus makers say 77 is safe, RSU 16 honors that number.
Local school bus drivers, who are in contract negotiations with the district, say that while 77 is the legal capacity, it is often too many and leads to overcrowding.
Bus driver Mark Chase presented the board with a report from the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services.
Among its recommendations, the report advises: “School buses transport passengers in a wide range sizes (height and weight). Accordingly, it is not possible to define the absolute capacity of a school bus under all conditions. The typical school bus seat is 39 inches wide and generally is considered to have a maximum seating capacity of three. This capacity rating is not meant to be a measure of the absolute capacity of the school bus seat for all sizes of passengers. Rather, it is the ‘rated maximum capacity’ as determined by the school bus body manufacturer and specified on the vehicle.”
Barlow said students from pre-kindergarten through grade 6 often sit three to seat, while older students sit two to a seat.
Both Barlow and Worth said the district would have to buy more buses if the board were to reduce seating capacities.
RSU 16 now has 14 buses and 22 drivers providing transportation for the three elementary schools and Poland Regional High School. It also has specialized buses, four vans and a bus that brings older students to the Lewiston Regional Technical Center.
Some drivers say buses can fill quickly with students who not only wear bulky clothes in colder months but who come loaded with large back packs, bags containing additional clothing, school projects, musical instruments and food bags.
“If students are challenged in controlling their belongings on the bus,” Barlow said, “they should respectfully bring fewer items.”
Added Worth, “Students need to learn how to behave in cramped spaces.”
In other matters, the board learned the school budget for 2019-20 has been reduced by $235,000 because of lower-than-expected insurance costs and reduced interest on some debts.
The proposed budget, which is to be presented at the tri-town meeting April 24 at Poland Regional High School, is now about $22.5 million.
If voters were to approve the budget, taxes on property valued at $100,000 would increase by $23.73 in Mechanic Falls and decrease by $30.77 in Minot and $18.83 in Poland.