06/06/13 — Director offers plan for buses

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Director offers plan for buses

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 6, 2013 1:46 PM

The school system's transportation director addressed concerns about the district's poor scores from the state's past two years of bus inspections, telling the school board Monday night he is working to improve the situation.

Two weeks ago, the News-Argus obtained a copy of the School Bus Defect Report, released by the state after the May 7 inspection. The annual random sample inspection represents approximately 10 percent of the fleet. The law also requires each school district to routinely inspect every bus, every 30 days.

For the second year in a row, Wayne County received high scores. On the 0-100 scale, the lower the score, the better.

Three years ago, the district actually earned better marks than the state average, with a score of 33.95 compared to 47.2, representing the eastern region.

Last year, Wayne County's score climbed to 86, among the highest in the state. This year, it was slightly better, with a score of 78.

But it was the glaring findings that raised questions -- "multiple safety issues" on several buses, fire hazards like "oil on the exhaust" as well as references to loose wires, low transmission fluid and unsecured passenger seats.

Raymond Smith, transportation director for the past nine years, initially blamed some of the problem on high turnover and an inexperienced staff in the bus mechanic pool.

When he appeared before the Board of Education this week, he said he was "not making excuses."

"We're going to get a handle on this," he said.

Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor said there is an action plan in place to try to reduce the number of infractions that were found, noting that the district has never had an accident due to mechanical failure.

"At the same time, it's the mechanics' job," Taylor said. "We expect the inspection to go smoothly."

Taylor said Smith will be working with the shop foreman to make improvements where needed in the department. He added that he appreciated the director's efforts as well as the staff, but the same expectation is there for all mechanics, regardless of the range of experience.

Board member Thelma Smith asked about the state's plans to increase the number of years a bus can be used.

"Right now, I think you have to replace buses every how many years?" she asked.

"The current standard is 20 years or when they have met their mileage standard," Smith said. "Legislation is now asking that years not be a consideration and that buses reach 250,000 miles."

Older buses present an additional challenge, he added, as it is difficult to find parts.

"Obviously, the older the bus, the more potential to have issues," Taylor said. "I know that our folks will be more diligent."

Board member Arnold Flowers said Smith had been "forthcoming" and promised a reorganization plan.

"Last board meeting, I asked the superintendent to arrange a time when Mr. Smith could give us a time (to discuss his plan)," Flowers said. "I was trying to go to bat for you, Mr. Smith. But I have seen your plan as far as transportation and I like his plan. I hope the board will get on board.

"Part of that plan (is) directed at the ability for the mechanics to have access to the buses."

Flowers explained that some of the problem has been buses serving several schools and mechanics having difficulty tracking the vehicles down. He said he has faith in the proposed plan he has seen, and believes Smith has "a strong desire to make it a good system."

"We have got a top notch transportation director, Mr. Smith, but he needs some guidance from our board," he said.

Smith said three years ago, the district had impressive scores and he hopes to return to that status again.

"We have developed a plan of action that's going to address our protocol for maintenance," he said. "We do have buses on the different school sites. There's a lot of mechanic time that's lost from one school to the next."

Board Chairman John Grantham suggested the need for an action plan addressing what will be done to remedy the situation. He said that every school district operates under the same state laws and yet managed to fare better on the scoring system.

He also asked about the turnover of mechanics.

"To be honest, Mr. Grantham, that's an issue and that's something that we are going to have to address internally as to why that turnover or why we feel that turnover is occurring," Smith said. "The majority of our mechanics have been on board less than a year."