01/18/14 — Random inspection leads to 13 WCPS buses being pulled from roads

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Random inspection leads to 13 WCPS buses being pulled from roads

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 18, 2014 10:38 PM

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A Wayne County Public Schools bus is seen Friday. A random inspection of the county's fleet last week saw 13 local buses pulled off the road.


A third round of poor bus safety scores discovered during the state's latest random inspection visit last week -- with 13 of the 23 buses checked immediately pulled from the road -- has prompted the Wayne County Public Schools' superintendent to take action to "restructure" the transportation department.

A preliminary report released by the state Department of Public Instruction this week cited multiple safety problems ranging from brake problems and muffler and tailpipe leaks to "excessive axle/tire shimmy" and an "inoperative warning device."

This is the third year in a row the district's transportation department has been cited for excessive infractions.

For the past two years, Wayne County has ranked the fourth highest in the state of those having the worst safety scores. This year's score was 85.85 -- on a rating score of 0-100, zero is considered a perfect score.

And the latest figure is up from the 2013 School Bus Defect Report, released in May, when it was 78. In 2012, the local score was at 86, a drastic leap from 2011, when it had been at 33.95.

DPI is required to perform an annual inspection of school buses, taking a random sample of buses from each route. Approximately 10 percent of the fleet is chosen for the inspection, said Derek Graham, section chief of transportation services for DPI.

In addition, the state went beyond a random check of the yellow buses for the district.

"This year we inspected activity buses, a handful of activity buses, three in Wayne County," Graham said. "It's not something we have typically done. They were selected at random. One was in really good shape. Two of them were not. They were pretty high scoring."

The activity bus score was 104.33.

By law, school systems are required to inspect each bus every 30 days.

Upon completion of the unannounced inspections conducted by the state, a report of the findings is left with the Transportation Department. A follow-up notification is sent later, along with the state's recommendations, Graham said.

But the burden of compliance is on the individual school district, he added.

"The superintendent receives a report but it's really up to that school system to be in compliance with the law," Graham said back in May. "We don't have any enforcement, other than to say, 'Pull the bus off the road.'"

Lacking any "enforcement arm," Graham said the state relies on the superintendent and Board of Education to enact the recommendations and make necessary changes.

When contacted Thursday afternoon about the latest report, Graham admitted it has been "frustrating" to hand down recommendations, only to have the problems continue.

"It's frustrating because the purpose of doing this is to obtain some feedback," he said. "We would hope that when a district gets feedback they would take the appropriate action."

The school district confirmed Friday that the district had received unofficial results from the inspection on Monday, with the superintendent taking action by the following day.

"Our district was told 13 school buses out of 23 were parked by the inspector due to safety violations, such as brake issues, exhaust issues, non-functioning warning indicator lights or buzzers and fire extinguishers that were not charged or were the wrong size," Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor said. "Although the district is still waiting for the official report, the unofficial findings of the inspector are disappointing. Even more, the findings reflect that the district's maintenance improvement program, which was developed last spring to turn around safety issues reflected in two previous school bus inspection reports, was not effectively implemented."

Taylor added that he has since met with Raymond Smith, transportation director, and Smith's immediate supervisor, Dr. Marvin McCoy, assistant superintendent for human resource services.

The following actions are to be implemented, Taylor said:

* The transportation department will begin immediate inspection of all school buses

* A restructuring of transportation staff as needed will begin immediately

* For the next 60 days, Smith will serve dually in a shop foreman role and personally oversee maintenance and inspections of school buses, while McCoy will assist Smith in handling transportation administrative duties

* Also over the next 60 days, the district will temporarily utilize retired district mechanics to assist the transportation department with inspection and will "voluntarily request that a new state inspection be conducted of its school buses to determine if further actions need to be taken."

"Wayne County Public Schools appreciates the N.C. Department of Public Instruction Transportation Services Section for their efforts to assist our district in promoting school bus safety," Taylor said. "Parents and the community can be assured that school bus safety is a top priority for the district, and we do not take these latest inspection findings lightly."