The State Board of Education now requires school districts to include seatbelts on all NEW buses they buy. Department of Education attorney Nicole Proesch says they are also in the process of clarifying how districts can pay to add seatbelts to the buses they already own. Proesch says they are changing the language the governs the use of the physical plant and equipment levy fund known as PEPEL.

“It expands the terminology for the term repairing of transportation equipment for transporting students to include retrofitting — when such retrofitting is aligned with schoolbus construction standards,” Proesch says. The Physical Plant and Equipment Levy is an amount up to 33 cents for each thousand dollars of assessed valuation that voters in each school district can approve. It is most often used for building and equipment needs. She says the language for using PEPEL wasn’t clear when the schoolbus seatbelt issue came up.

“When we went back and we were saying ‘look we are going to put seatbelts on buses,’ then we started to go back and look at our language to say — you know can schools now add seatbelts onto their buses if they want to retrofit and then be able to pay for it out of PEPEL or not,” Proesch says. Proesch says the change should do away with any doubt on how the PEPEL funds can be used.

“Right now you can use PEPEL to buy a bus, but we weren’t quite sure if our language would allow you to use PEPEL to retrofit a bus. Which just kind of seems like it doesn’t really fit,” according to Proesch. The Board of Education approved the rules clarification in November, and there is a public hearing on the proposed changer January 7th at the Board of Education’s office in Des Moines.