Bice clarifies stance on Hoover school bus fees
Published 4:48 pm Wednesday, April 23, 2014
By CASSANDRA MICKENS/Associate Editor
HOOVER — State Superintendent Tommy Bice issued a written statement April 23 saying that school bus fees could be an option for school systems, “but one that will need to be vetted fully through all legal avenues.”
Bice issued his statement after meeting with Hoover Superintendent Andy Craig and School Board President Paulette Pearson April 23 about Hoover’s proposal to charge students a fee to ride the bus to and from school beginning in the 2014-2015 school year.
Bice sought to clarify a previous statement he made April 18 about how the proposal appears to violate state law. At that time, Bice cited Section 16-11-26 of the Alabama Code, which says, “No fees of any kind shall be collected from children attending any of the first six grades of the city schools during the school term supported by public taxation.”
Hoover school board attorney Donald Sweeney issued a statement in response to Bice’s initial remarks April 21, saying “city boards of education have no statutory obligation to provide student transportation.” Sweeney said school transportation is not an “essential service” as previously referenced by Bice.
“For city school districts, the Alabama Legislature has given city school systems the option to provide or not to provide transportation,” Sweeney said.
Bice said April 23 that he had a “very positive and productive meeting” with Craig and Pearson, and considers Hoover City Schools “a great system that regretfully has found itself facing a challenging financial dilemma.”
“We have confirmed that its financial challenges are not due to financial mismanagement, but rather an annual increase in the total student population paired with a decreasing state budget allocation in vital areas of operations (in this case, transportation and current units) along with decreasing sources of local revenue,” Bice said.
Bice said Craig and Hoover school board are considering viable options across multiple areas not limited to transportation to lessen the shortfall.
Bice said his concerns with Hoover’s fee-for-service proposal are twofold due to potential statewide implications. “It implies that funding for transportation is la local responsibility, as opposed to that of the Legislature as part of the State’s Foundation Program and “it could place Hoover City Schools in a position for long-term legal issues that have the potential to be far more costly than the projected savings.”
Bice continued: “This does not mean, however, that a fee for service plan is not an option but one that will need to be vetted fully through all legal avenues. We have committed to work collaboratively with Mr. Craig and the Hoover City Board of Education in assessing multiple, viable solutions to its financial challenge, and our working relationship is solid.”
Bice also said he is concerned with reports that the community has been divided due to the school system’s financial struggles. He urges “all interested parties to come together with Mr. Craig and the Board in the development of sound and long-term solutions to the challenge, realizing that sacrifices will be required to ensure the financial stability of the system.”
“Finally, it has taken years to get to this point of financial challenge. The current situation will not be resolved in the immediate future, or with adjustments to just one funding area. It is at these times of challenge that great communities rally, not divide, and I have full confidence that will be the case in Hoover.”