Bryan school officials are working through the unknowns that come with the new requirement that buses have seat belts, but their recommendation to not retrofit current buses got a warm reception at Monday's board meeting.
Under state law, all buses manufactured after Sept. 1 and purchased by school districts must be equipped with three-point seat belts. Like many school officials in the Brazos Valley, Bryan trustees are uncertain about the safety benefit of adding the seat belts and concerned about the increased cost.
The board authorized Monday the purchase of 10 buses Monday -- eight regular and two special education buses -- that will be equipped with seat belts. Amy Drozd, assistant superintendent of business services, told the board that while there is a "common knowledge" understanding that seat belts make vehicles safer, there is also a concern about what would happen if children needed to be cut out of their seat belts in a crash.
In general, there is a lot that the district doesn't know, like how the seat belts will affect the capacity of a bus and what extra costs that might cause.
It's also not clear how the limited number of new school buses with seat belts will be used. Drozd said administrators have talked over the idea of putting the buses on more accident-prone routes or possibly doling out the buses based on the age of riders.
"Of course, we've all grown up knowing we have to wear seat belts, but at least at [the elementary] age, they have probably always been buckled in a passenger car," Drozd said.
The limited number of buses equipped with seat belts will give the district an opportunity to get a better understanding of the issues involved.
"Having both of them and working with both of them will give us a lot of perspective," she said.
Drozd said special education buses cost around $98,000, whereas regular buses cost around $93,000 before the addition of seat belts, which she estimates will cost $8,000 per bus.
Trustee Ruthie Waller said the costs adds up, particularly for a district as expansive as Bryan, where it takes around 150 buses to cover routes.
"That's probably the largest amount of buses within 100 miles," Waller said. "When we're talking about buses -- plural -- we're not just talking about a little fleet of buses."
Retrofitting older buses in the district's fleet with seat belts could cost $15,000 to $20,000 per bus. Trustee David Stasny said there isn't enough information available to support such a purchase.
"It's very easy to say you shouldn't put a price on safety, and I think to a large extent, that's true," Stasny said. "But I don't recall ... any time where we had a serious injury or death to a child because of a lack of a seat belt. We're not saying, 'Oh my gosh, we'll save a little money and endanger these kids.' "
Stasny told the rest of the board that the risk is miniscule, but the cost would be high.
"It would be in the millions," Drozd said.