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Lawmaker drove school bus in her campaign for student safety

If at first you don’t succeed, go back to the drawing board and try and figure out what went wrong.

At least that’s how the saying goes for Democratic Sen. Barbara McGuire of Kearny, who failed to pass school bus-related legislation she sponsored while serving in the House of Representatives until 2010.

Defeated in 2010 in her re-election bid, McGuire went back to her home in Kearny and got a job as a school bus driver for the Ray Unified School District. She returned to the Capitol this year armed with the experience she gained from a year spent driving students to and from schools.

None of McGuire’s school bus-related bills have been heard in committee this year, and two are double assigned, meaning the odds are against them. But at least she came ready to fight, she said.

“I decided to go and acquire a (commercial driver’s license), apply for a job as a driver, and drive for a year so I could learn from the ground up,” McGuire said. “I would have the knowledge firsthand to rebut any comments.”

Ray School District Superintendent Robert Dunn was happy to hire McGuire, he said. The 560-student district has just four routes, and McGuire started in May 2011.

“At that particular point, I didn’t think anything about a politician working for us. Quite frankly, where we’re located it’s difficult to get people to drive a bus,” Dunn said. “We’re remotely located and have about four regular routes and at that particular time as I remember we were in dire need of drivers.”

Dunn said McGuire drove one of the four routes to and from a Ray school each morning until May 2012, when she stepped down to run for office. McGuire would transport roughly 55 students a day on routes of about an hour one-way, covering a large amount of territory in the rural district.

Dunn said he never heard much personally about McGuire as a bus driver, but “I guess no news is good news,” he added.

Now, McGuire is backing SB1391, which requires bus drivers to enforce assigned seating on school buses and take attendance as students board the bus each morning. The bill is an expanded version of another one she sponsored in the House in 2010 that was never heard in committee.

Many school bus drivers already use their own informal seating assignments, Dunn said. “It boils down to, just like a classroom, being able to manage your bus,” Dunn said.

McGuire’s bill would serve several purposes, she said: separating older students from younger, impressionable ones; avoiding troublesome altercations between students; and serving as the first marker of attendance before students even arrive at school.

“From my experience, every bus driver, after a while they get to know all the kids,” McGuire said. “You learn the names of those kids, you know who they are, you know when they’re not there.’’

A new bill introduced by McGuire, one that she discovered while driving her routes, would prohibit bus stops from being assigned on state highways with speed limits higher than 45 miles per hour. McGuire said one of the stops on her route was on a 65 mile per hour highway.

The bill, while double-assigned, is cosponsored by

Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford.

McGuire had to leave her job as a driver when she decided to run for the Senate, but hasn’t ruled out a return to the bus route in her district. And Ray school officials said they’d happily have her back.

“She commented about the fact that if she didn’t get elected she was going to come back and drive a bus for us,” Dunn said.

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