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Audit: Not all school districts adaquately oversee their bus operations

ST. PAUL - Most Minnesota school districts adequately oversee their student transportation operations, but others do not, and better local- and state-level oversight is needed, an audit released this morning reported.

A report by the office of Minnesota Legislative Auditor James Nobles also concluded that there are few requirements for the drivers of vans and other vehicles often used to transport students in special education programs. Additionally, the report found that many school district transportation officials do not understand their obligations.

"School districts vary significantly in how they provide, manage and oversee student transportation," the audit concluded. "While many school districts do an excellent job, others do not ensure that school bus drivers are qualified or adequately oversee the contractors who provide transportation for their district."

To study student transportation issues, the auditor's office received completed questionnaires from 95 percent of Minnesota school districts. Auditors also visited school districts around the state, including in Pipestone, Roseau and St. Louis County.

The report found that districts spent $446 million on student transportation during the 2005-06 school year.

Nobles and his staff presented their findings to a legislative committee today. Lawmakers have said they plan to look at student transportation issues in the upcoming legislative session, which begins Feb. 12.

The report was critical of state Department of Public Safety, the lead agency on school transportation safety. It said the department did not order all vehicles with maintenance problems to be removed from districts' student transportation fleets.

In a written response to the report, Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion said the agency "remains committed to the safe transportation of children to and from school," and that officials already have implemented additional safety measures.

"The department realizes through your findings and recommendations that there is significant room for improving elements of the school bus safety program," Campion wrote.