Inspection scores for county school buses vary
By PAT PRATT
Butler County public schools saw mixed results on the Missouri State Highway Patrol's 2016 bus inspections, with Poplar Bluff falling 20-points below state average and Twin Rivers qualifying for an award.
Twin Rivers earned a 93.3 percent approval rating. Inspectors found only one bus in the fleet of 15 with a defective item. The Missouri Total Fleet Excellence Award is awarded to schools with approval ratings of 90 percent or greater.
School superintendent Jeremy Siebert commended mechanic Kurt Lichtenegger for addressing issues with the fleet in a timely manner.
"He is always working to keep busses safe for our drivers and students. I want to commend him and Jeff Snider for making that department run smoothly. I would also like to commend all the drivers for all they do to help with keeping our busses safe and clean," he said.
Poplar Bluff received an approval rating of 65.1 percent. That score reflects a 10-percent drop from last year and falls more than 20 points below the state average of 88.7 percent.
Inspectors failed 13 busses of the 43 presented for inspection and removed two from service for safety violations.
Transportation director Ronnie Martin says most of the issues were fixed that day or soon after and he expects a score of 90 percent or greater in 2017.
"Our goal is 100 percent. Our realistic expectation is a 94-95 percent minimum. That would give us two busses with infractions. I have had six, 100-percent inspections in the past and would like to get number seven. Not for myself, but for these guys (employees)," Martin said.
Of the two busses removed from service, one was found with fluid contamination on the front brake and the other with an air powered front door that did not open quickly enough.
Martin agreed the door could have caused a problem in an emergency.
"This air operated door, if it didn't close fast enough, then I can see if you needed to keep a child on the bus and get that door closed it could have been a problem," Martin said.
Some issues common to multiple Poplar Bluff busses included damaged outside "crossover" mirrors and damage to the front corners of busses likely caused by dips in the roadway, transportation employees said.
"We replaced every mirror that possibly could fail on next year's inspection. The three busses that failed for minor damage on the corner, we fixed about 20 busses that could be in question in the future," Martin said.
Prior to Martins' hiring in February, the program lacked a permanent director for 18 months. Prior to a pay raise in June, drivers here were among the lowest paid in Southeast Missouri, causing an employee shortfall. Martin said these issues affected the March 29 inspection.
"All three mechanics, for weeks not days, were driving. I went a week driving with them right before the inspection. I drove a bus a lot more than I thought I would the first month on the job," said Martin. "I needed 30 more days here on the job. That's what I needed. I am not going to use that as an excuse though," he said.
Neelyville's bus fleet earned an 85.7 percent approval. That rate reflects an almost 10-percent increase from 2015. Two busses in Neelyville's fleet of 14 were found with defective items and none were taken out of service.
Superintendent Brad Hagood said the inspections are rigorous and district mechanics work hard to ensure the entire fleet is safe for student transport.
"We didn't have any busses out of service and some were minor issues that were fixed immediately. Every year we strive for 100 percent and our mechanic goes through them thoroughly before the inspection. Sometimes some things are just overlooked - small things," Hagood said.
During the annual school bus inspection program, buses found to have no defective items are rated as "approved." Buses having one or more defective items which pose no threat to the safety of students are rated as "defective."
Buses with one or more defective items which may compromise the safe transportation of students are rated as "out-of-service."