Jonesboro: Attorney General weighs in on school bus issue

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JONESBORO, Texas (KWTX) Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an official opinion Tuesday that says Jonesboro school busses can’t pick up students outside district lines without a formal agreement with Gatesville ISD.

Coryell County District Attorney Dustin Boyd received the AG’s opinion on Tuesday after he’d requested clarification of a law that governs school district transportation issues, especially a question about Jonesboro buses travelling to adjacent districts to take students to and from school.

“A school district in Coryell County came to me and asked me to request an attorney general’s opinion on a specific issue,” Boyd said.

Only Boyd and Coryell County Attorney Brandon Belt are authorized under state statute to request a legal opinion from the Texas Attorney General.

It’s the same in every Texas county.

The issue revolved around transportation of students.

Jonesboro ISD has been sending buses into the Gatesville ISD territory to pick up students who had received permission to transfer to the Jonesboro district.

But Attorney General Ken Paxton’s opinion states that in the absence of an interlocal agreement between Jonesboro and Gatesville, the Jonesboro practice is improper.

In Boyd’s opinion request he points out that no interlocal agreement exists between the two districts.

The opinion states: “(the) section … does not authorize the Jonesboro ISD to operate a public school transportation system outside of its boundaries and within the boundaries of Gatesville ISD to regularly transport students to and from school without an interlocal cooperation contract …” the ruling says.

“The Legislature provided school districts authority to operate a public school transportation system-transporting students to and from school-but limited the operation of that system to the confines of the school district except as provided by subsection(s),” according to Paxton’s opinion.

“(The law) provides authority for a school district to operate its public school transportation system outside its territory contingent upon an interlocal cooperation contract …”

“We send Jonesboro buses to the north side of Gatesville every day and pick up students who choose to go to Jonesboro,” Jonesboro Superintendent Matt Dossey said.

He said every day there about 80 students who ride from Gatesville to Jonesboro to attend class.

When KWTX with Dossey Wednesday morning he’d not yet seen the opinion.

“This happens every day all over Texas,” Dossey said, “It’s nothing unusual.”

Gatesville ISD Superintendent Eric Penrod issued a statement Wednesday morning that said: “The request of an Attorney General(‘s) Opinion was not about Gatesville ISD engaging in adversarial conversations with Jonesboro ISD.

“In fact, this entire process has been very civil, with two districts interpreting a statute differently, and using the proper means to find a resolution,” Penrod wrote.

"Section 34.007 of the Education Code does not authorize the Jonesboro ISD to operate a public-school transportation system outside of its boundaries and within the boundaries of the Gatesville Independent School District to regularly transport students to and from school without an interlocal cooperation contract under Govt. Code Chapter 791,” Penrod’s statement said.

In fact, Penrod said, the issue has nothing to do with exchange of students between districts …” the collective count of students coming and going from surrounding districts is a wash.”

The opinion was received but so far no action has been taken by either district.

The Gatesville district includes locations in both Coryell and Bell counties and the Jonesboro district extends from Coryell into both Bosque and Hamilton counties.