It would appear the lines of communication between the Hoover Board of Education and the state school superintendent aren't as open as previously reported. Last Thursday the Hoover Board of Education voted unanimously to approve a fee schedule for school buses starting this fall. The board reportedly has been in contact with the Justice Department over the plan for months.
Then late Friday afternoon, State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tommy Bice released this statement to the media.
It reads in part:
"We were surprised by the actions of the hoover board of education last evening regarding fees for transportation services, as we had not been consulted on the proposal."
Doctor Bice went on to cite a section of the alabama code which states no fees of any kind can be collected from children attending any first six grades of city schools supported by public taxes.
Late Monday afternoon ABC 33/40 received the following statement from Donald Sweeney, who is the attorney representing the Hoover Board of Education:
"The Alabama Code section referred to by Dr. Bice is Ala. Code 16-11-26. It applies only to city school systems and is titled “Incidental Fees.”
"City boards of education have no statutory obligation to provide student transportation. Student transportation is required for county students but not for students attending city school districts. For city school districts the Alabama Legislature has given city school systems the option to provide or not to provide transportation.
"If student transportation were considered an “essential service” as referenced by Dr. Bice city school systems would be required to provide student transportation. It is not and city school systems have the right not to provide student transportation or to decide what transportation services to offer.
"It is true that the State Board of Education has the statutory authority to prescribe rules and regulations regarding student transportation. Ala. Code 16-27-1.
"But the State Department of Education has never elected to prescribe rules regarding fees for transportation—at least we have never found such rules or regulations. As far as we know , city school districts have the statutory option not to provide transportation, or to provide some transportation, and to decide if what transportation is provided is fee based.
"In this regard, fees for school-related activities have been in place for years with full knowledge of the State Department of Education. Students who elect not to use student transportation for school related activities are not charged for transportation in Hoover: whether they are elementary school or upper level students, if they don’t use the services they are not charged any fee. Students who elect not to ride the bus to school would not be charged a transportation fee— i.e. no fees would be collected from them consistent with Ala. Code 16-11-26.
"Regarding Dr. Bice’s news release, I was surprised. Hoover officials have met with Dr. Bice and his staff about our efforts to take responsible steps to address the Board’s financial challenges by reducing the cost burden of unfunded student transportation. We would have welcomed the opportunity to discuss Dr. Bice’s concerns if he had called Hoover Superintendent Andy Craig before his statement. We know the State Department of Education has the authority to prescribe rules and regulations regarding student transportation. If he had called Superintendent Craig, Mr. Craig would have shared with him the status of this matter and the Board’s willingness to discuss how best to minimize the financial drain on the Hoover Board of Education’s educational program caused by this unfunded transportation cost. Indeed, Mr. Craig would have explained that the Board has adopted a fee matrix for “planning purposes only.”
"Dr. Bice indicated that he would arrange a meeting with the Board this week. When he asks to do so, he will find the Board and Mr. Craig very receptive."