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City council backs Boone County legislator’s school bus bill

The Columbia City Council is the latest organization to back legislation that would allow high school students in Columbia to ride public transit.

It joins the Columbia Chamber of Commerce and the Columbia Public Schools District.

“We would like the ability to be flexible and use an existing resource in our community, especially given the rising cost of transportation in our district and a continued shortfall when it comes to state funding to support mandated school transportation,” CPS spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said in an email.

She said administrators would like the opportunity to have a discussion about what it might look like.

“Transportation is especially expensive in our community as the fifth largest school district in the state and one that is geographically 300 square miles,” she said. “We have hundreds and hundreds of bus routes that we must operate.”

Rep. Chuck Basye (R-Rocheport) has sponsored the bill three times.

“It’ll help the school district utilize money. They can use that in other places where they eliminate some of the bus lines,” he said. It will help the city transit lines use the buses that are underutilized now.”

Last session, the proposal was effectively killed by Sen. Doug Libla (R-Poplar Bluff), who cited safety concerns, as well as the legislation not being properly vetted by parents.

“My concern would be, if I was a citizen of the Columbia School District, if I’m paying taxes into my school district, do I want my kids to be riding the city bus to school?” he said.

Basye said amendments were made to the bill last session that still exist in this version to address safety concerns. Those include limiting the riders to just high school students, having an adult monitor besides the bus driver, and a student-only section.

Drivers would also go through rigorous background checks.

“I understand safety should be the number one focus,” Basye said. “I think with all the entities that are behind this bill, I don’t think safety’s going to be an issue.”

Libla reiterated his concern that last session’s bill didn’t appear to feature support from CPS parents. He said he can’t predict how he will react to or vote on bills before they come up, but said he would like to see more parental support.

“If Columbia citizens and the taxpayers and the parents, if they’re all great with it and everything, and there’s a tremendous show of support, and say ‘We just can’t wait for little Timmy and Sally or their kids to ride a city bus versus riding a school bus,’ then I’m good for it, probably,” he said. “But I haven’t seen that.”

Basye said the district got feedback from parents. ABC 17 News has reached out to CPS for clarification.

One member of the Hickman High School PTA told ABC 17 News in an email that they had not heard about the plan in full details, and didn’t know how parents would feel about it at this point.

Baumstark said this isn’t a new concept for communities, and they are hoping for some hybrid usage of what other communities do. If this passes, she said there would be “no way” that it would replace 100 percent of the school district’s bus routes.

“It could be a means to help ease some of our financial strain in this area and utilize an existing public resource,” she said.

A bill passed last year that allows Kansas City schools to use a similar concept. It doesn’t apply to Columbia because language in the amendment limits cities with a smaller population from doing so.

Basye said the bill is bipartisan, with support from the Boone County delegation. He also mentioned the Boys & Girls Club backs the bill.

“The Boys & Girls Club will be able to use this to get kids from Battle High School over to the Boys and Girls Club after school,” he said. “Right now, they have limited ability to get those kids over.”

Columbia Mayor Brian Treece abstained from the city council’s vote on the resolution to support the legislation.

Basye said the Teamsters also oppose the bill, citing safety concerns.

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