Bus Turnarounds

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 14, 2008

Quarter-mile bus turnaround launches inquiry into practice

By Billy Davis

With Panola County government presently a month into a lean budget year, county supervisors may be taking a second look at the expense of maintaining school bus turnarounds.

In Panola County, the county road department currently has a list of more than 200 turnarounds in South Panola and more than 60 in North Panola.

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 “We’ve got a new county administrator now and we’re looking at all county expenses,” board president Gary Thompson said this week, referring to comments he had made at the board’s November 10 meeting.

Thompson advised fellow supervisors that he had met with South Panola School District officials to question the criteria for determining a bus turnaround.

“My definition is that a turnaround should be a dead-end road,” Thompson said.  

The supervisor apparently sought that meeting after learning that a bus turnaround list for South Panola includes a quarter-mile private road off of Shiloh Road.

The private road is located in Thompson’s district, and the supervisor was advised by road manager Lygunnah Bean of its length.

Bean estimated Monday the cost of improving the road at $5,000 to $6,000.

 “My guess is it costs almost $10,000,” Thompson replied.

Mississippi law allows county governments to maintain school bus turnarounds, and a list of those turnarounds is first approved by the school board then sent to the Board of Supervisors.

A turnaround is typically a property owner’s driveway. Bus drivers cannot back the buses into a roadway for obvious safety reasons, warranting the need for a turnaround at a home or even at a driveway into a field or pasture.

“The drivers are not allowed to turn around in a curve or at the bottom of the hill. They have to drive until they find a safe spot,” said Robert Chapman, transportation director for South Panola schools.

County governments are prohibited from working on private property, but the state attorney general’s office has released varying opinions that make an exception for improving a bus turnaround.

“Whether the supervisors do any work is entirely at their discretion,” said Chapman.

“I was under the impression that we had to do them,” said Thompson. “But I know now that it is at our discretion.”   

At South Panola, 68 school buses transport about 3,500 school children during the school year, said Chapman.

County road department figures given to The Panolian this week show road crews worked on three driveways in August, when school began, and 19 driveways in September. Ten turnarounds were improved in October, figures show. The total cost of materials added up to $645.70, figures show.

“Some of those turnarounds – we’ve never been on them,” Bean, who is also South Panola school board president, told The Panolian.

Bean said most turnaround work requires a single load of gravel, which costs $9.75 a truckload.

Typical equipment on site would include a dump truck and a road grader.

Bean said he regretted estimating the cost of the Shiloh Road work at $6,000. “I was popping off of my darn head, I guess,” he said of his comment.

A more appropriate cost estimate for the private roadwork is $3,788, which includes the cost of materials and labor, Bean said.

According to Chapman, the school district typically relies on its bus drivers to locate appropriate turnaround spots on their routes. Any of those turnarounds that require gravel are added to the turnaround list, and that list is updated at least yearly.

The transportation director estimated that three-quarters of the turnarounds are located at the end of the bus route.

Chapman said the school district had received a request last year for a bus turnaround on the quarter-mile private road. The request was turned down, he said.

“I went there myself and there was nobody living in the house,” he recalled. A student is now living in the home and is being picked up from that location, he said.

Asked if he believes property owners are aware of the bus turnarounds and abuse the privilege, Chapman, “Sure, they get their driveway fixed.”