In 1998, they passed a law that mandated a study of 10 school transportation issues, including �amount of time students spend on buses.�
But the bus time stipulation was left out when the Department of Education requested bids from consultants for the study. The other nine items were listed.
�What they eliminated was what had the biggest impact on the people they�re supposed to serve,� said Linda Martin, who heads Challenge West Virginia, a small-schools advocacy group. �It is insulting they would play such games with the lives of children.�
State school board member Barbara Fish said school consolidations have prompted longer bus rides.
But she said low-performing schools with dwindling enrollments shouldn�t be kept open solely because closing them would result in longer rides for students.
�We don�t want to ignore there are bus time discrepancies out there,� Fish said. �But the solution is not keeping open a school that cannot offer the students what they need to succeed.�
Stewart noted that students in rural counties don�t always attend schools closest to home.
Students may live closer to a school in a neighboring county, for instance.
�The first question is: Are they transporting children to the nearest school?� Stewart said. �And if not, the second question is: How do we make that happen?�
Most school systems refuse to bus children across county lines because it would prompt a loss of state funding. School systems receive state money based on the number of students they serve.
Stewart has recommended an overhaul of the state school funding formula.
Last year, he recommended that the Legislature allocate $3.6 million a year more for service workers because rural counties must hire large numbers of bus drivers, forcing them to cut classroom aides, cooks and custodians.
Legislators rejected the request.
Stewart said he eventually wants to establish a computerized transportation reporting system to track bus routes and times statewide.
To contact staff writer Eric Eyre, use e-mail or call 348-5100.