Rupert Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bus turnarounds get closer look with leaner budget 

Panola Supervisors may now be coming into their own as a board in the face of a lean budget and increased taxes that property owners will soon receive notice of through the annual tax bills to be mailed around December 1.

With a new county administrator, board president and other new board members and the fact the years of traditional governing through decades of experience of the late Board President Robert Avant and retired county administrator David Chandler are now gone, more questions are being asked while once-routine decisions are receiving more scrutiny.

That fact was brought to light last week when board President Gary Thompson questioned the request that Panola County maintain a “school bus turnaround” that meant constructing — at an estimated cost between $5,000 and $10,000 — a road on private property so that one student could be picked up.

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The South Panola  School District presently has a list of 200 turnarounds; North Panola more than 60.

State law allows the county to maintain on private property areas for buses to safely turn around. Requests must come through the local school boards to the board of supervisors which then has the option to honor the request or not.

South Panola School District relies on transportation director Robert Chapman to recommend when the work is needed. Each month he presents any new request before that board at their regular meeting. That board routinely passes Chapman’s request on to the board of supervisors which has routinely accepted them and authorized Road Manager Lygunnah Bean to begin the work.

Bean also serves as school board president and on occasion has questioned the expense that the county will incur by fixing or constructing the more lengthy turnarounds.

Although the system in place serves the purpose, Thompson thinks that members of his board should at least look at proposed sites to assure that they a reasonable and feasible.

After state regulations clamped down on county government maintaining driveways and other private roads in the 1980s, a void was opened. This is not to say that illegal activity is going on with bus turnarounds, but the potential is always present.

When the school districts continue to add and never take away from the list of authorized turnarounds, every driveway will eventually be legally eligible for maintenance.

Needed is board policy setting parameters so that school children can transported safely and the county not be in the business of road construction on private property.