For parents whose children ride buses to school, hearing that local buses aren't safe enough to be driven is nerve-wracking. Understanding if these bus-related issues present true dangers to children involves considering the level of defects that exist.
When KSDK-TV's Ryan Dean aired a story Thursday about the most number of school buses taken out of service from 2009 through 2011 due to mechanical issues that Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) inspectors said posed an immediate danger to students riding on them, officials found the district was cited as the third highest among the districts investigated by the television staff.
At Thursday evening's Rockwood Board of Education meeting, Rockwood Superintendent Bruce Borchers was quick to say: "First Student (the transportation company Rockwood uses) checks every school bus daily before its departure from the bus barn. In addition to these daily checks, MSHP inspects every school bus during its annual inspection."
KSDK's report indicated the following assessments that caused some concern for Rockwood families:
- St. Louis Public School: 68 buses pulled out of service
- Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation: 35 buses taken out of service
- Rockwood: 28 buses removed from service
Other larger school districts filled out the remaining three of the top six slots: Francis Howell—20 buses; St. Charles—12 buses; and Northwest—12 buses.
Buses can fail inspection due to a variety of reasons but can still be driven as long as the issue is fixed within 10 days, but are only taken off the road if the defect poses what inspectors view as an immediate danger, according to Dean's reporting. Those type of defects include:
- major tire and brake problems;
- the bus stop arm not working;
- emergency door not operating correctly;
- red flashing lights that have gone out;
- or an exhaust leak.
"It is important to note that in 2010, MSHP made a change regarding its school bus inspection process. During that year, 20 of 184 Rockwood buses inspected were placed out of service, most for very minor violations," Borchers said.
Borchers said those 2010 inspections cited defects for door alignment issues, various light bulbs, warning buzzers, lettering, signage, and loose mirrors. "These types of defects were corrected on the same day of the inspection."
The 20 buses removed from service in 2010 were due to parts not readily available, Borchers said, and it took a couple of additional days to correct certain defects. "Bus service was not impacted, as an adequate number of spare buses are available on an ongoing basis."
"Each bus that was pulled from service was immediately repaired and successfully re-inspected. In 2011, only four of 170 buses inspected were pulled from service," he said.
Borchers reiterated that school bus safety is a priority in Rockwood, citing a a 20-year relationship with First Student.
With Rockwood's geography spanning 150-plus square miles, he said the school buses travel more than 5 million miles and transport more than 12,000 students each year.
Borchers said the district's leaders expect First Student to maintain a passing percentage for buses in the 89 percent to 90 percent range, and to strive for continuous improvement.
"The Missouri State Highway Patrol inspectors are the experts, and we respect their results," he said at Thursday's board meeting. "We expect First Student to take immediate and corrective action to ensure the safety of our students."
However, Borchers said road conditions within Rockwood also impact the maintenance of buses, given all the types of roads dealt with: rural, subdivision and highway.