A Des Moines Register investigation shows that across 67 Iowa districts 99 school buses have been flagged multiple times by state inspectors as being unsafe to transport children. Jason Clayworth reports that among the cited problems are non-functional stoplights, broken outside strobe lights, crossing gates that fail to extend and steering axle problems. Perhaps most worrying for parents whose children are traveling on Iowa’s buses is the volumeof citations for worn brakes.
What’s supposed to happen is that when a bus is cited for a serious problem it is designated ‘out of service’ until school officials certify that the problem has been fixed. However, as the same serious safety or mechanical problem is being cited for buses on consecutive inspections, it appears likely that the buses aren’t being removed from service as they should be — or that school officials are signing off on the problem being fixed without checking if it actually has been.
A bus from Albia, a district of about 1,100 students in Monroe County, exemplifies the challenge facing state inspectors and school transportation officials.
The Register’s investigation found that one Albia bus was cited for the same parking brake problem in four consecutive inspections. State inspectors continually gave that bus an out-of-service designation, and school officials said repairs were made, but inspectors found the same brake problem again and again.
Albia is far from being alone in its problem. Eight buses from other school districts received three consecutive inspection failures for the same problem. 90 buses received citations for the same problem in two consecutive inspections.
“If somebody certifies that something has been taken care of and in fact it wasn’t, then I think there needs to be some type of reprimand or penalty,” said Sen. Paul McKinley, R-Chariton, who was injured almost 50 years ago when the school bus he was riding was slammed head-on by another vehicle traveling at high speed near Lucas. “You just can’t jeopardize children’s safety.”
While Clayworth is reporting on Iowa, there can be little doubt that this is a national problem, although its degree of severity will depend on the individual state and the safety procedures in place. For example, some states require a reinspection before the cited bus goes back on the road, which would cut down on the type of fraud endangering children’s lives in Iowa. In the light of the Des Moines Register investigation, it remains to be seen whether Iowa will be able to retain its ‘honor system’.
Max Christensen, overseer of the state’s bus inspection program, says that one of the flaws of the current system in Iowa is that districts almost never face any sanctions for repeated problems with their buses other than the regular state inspection review.