The New Orleans City Council has agreed to new rules for bus companies that serve the city’s charter schools.
The council on Feb. 8 approved rules proposed by Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration that are aimed at correcting problems officials recently found on some buses that they said threatened children’s safety, The New Orleans Advocate reported.
“We are taking swift action to improve school bus accountability across the city, and I’m grateful to the council for its leadership and for sharing a unified vision with our administration on this issue,” Cantrell said in a statement after the council’s unanimous vote.
Bus companies will be required to apply for permits for their vehicles and their drivers, under a process the city will unveil in the coming weeks. Their drivers must wear ID tags and undergo background checks, and their vehicles will be routinely inspected. Violations will result in fines and suspensions of driving privileges.
Those and other rules are expected to go into effect prior to the next school year.
Under the new ordinance, the city’s Taxicab and For-Hire Vehicle Bureau – now to be called the Ground Transportation Bureau – will issue permits by next school year to each bus in a private company’s fleet and to each driver of a bus or van that shuttles children. Companies will receive the initial bus permits at no charge but will have to pay $150 annually to renew a permit and $50 each for the two annual inspections required for each bus.
They will pay an initial $50 fine if their buses are found to be poorly maintained and more than that for multiple violations.
The city can also take problem buses off the roads. The ordinance further gives the city the right to cite bus firms instead of property owners when buses are illegally parked on private property.
Companies will be required to have $1 million in insurance per vehicle and must notify the city where their buses will be stored and who their clients are.
The Orleans Parish School Board will also train schools annually on busing rules and will keep a close eye on schools’ contracts with bus firms – steps that Councilman Joe Giarrusso, a past president of the board of the charter management organization KIPP New Orleans, said would be welcomed.
Charter schools that do not contract with a for-hire transit company are not subject to the new rules.
Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer said the rules will have “a huge impact” on children’s well-being.
Officials said the effort fills a gap left after the rise of the city’s all-charter school system. Before about 2005, the Orleans Parish School Board oversaw all aspects of school administration, including school bus maintenance and operations.
While some charter school leaders initially gave a cold reception to some points in the mayor’s proposal, those items were later amended.
Ken Ducote of the Greater New Orleans Collaborative of Charter Schools, said that his 14 member charter organizations support the city’s oversight.
“We pledge in the future to continue to work on resolving the issues that have come up, without the necessity of having to come back through an ordinance,” Ducote said.
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