05/15/14 — State parks four WCPS school buses

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State parks four WCPS school buses

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 15, 2014 1:46 PM

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Wayne County Public Schools' transportation department again came under scrutiny this week, when the state conducted a follow-up inspection of the local fleet.

WCPS Transportation Director Raymond Smith

Administrative changes, including personnel, are imminent after the Wayne County School District again scored poorly during a follow-up bus inspection earlier this week.

Inspectors were in town Monday, marking the fourth time the state conducted a random inspection since safety scores began plummeting three years ago. The difference this time, though, was the district had been so confident of its action plan to resolve the issues, it invited the state to return within 60 days.

The unofficial results were "only slightly better," resulting in four of the 10 buses checked pulled from the roadway, said Ken Derksen, director of communication services.

"There's going to be, as far as the administrative actions, no later than June 1 there will be an administrative restructuring of the transportation staff," he said, adding there would be an evaluation "of the performance and competencies of our transportation staff as well as a review and assess(ment) of the organizational process and procedures within the department."

He could not confirm whether the changes would affect Raymond Smith, transportation director.

"As of today, no action has been taken," Derksen said Wednesday afternoon. "We will have another update about the administrative restructuring in the next couple of days."

By law, school districts are required to inspect each bus in their fleets every 30 days. The state Department of Public Instruction is required to conduct an annual inspection of school buses, taking a random sample of buses from each route. About 10 percent of the fleet is chosen for the inspection.

For the past three years, safety scores have placed Wayne County Public Schools among the worst in the state for infractions.

In January's random inspection, 13 school buses out of 23 inspected were pulled from the roadway due to safety violations.

As a result, Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor implemented several actions within the transportation department, including "immediate inspection" of all school buses, a restructuring of the department and an invitation for the state to return at the end of 60 days to conduct another inspection "to determine if further actions need to be taken."

Inclement weather during the winter months delayed not only the school schedule, but the state's return visit, Derksen said in March.

"The 60 days is 60 business days," he said. "Taking into account all the snow days, mid-April we'll be asking the state to come back."

Taylor said at the time, "Raymond has a plan in place. All that is supposed to be taken care of. We're obviously working hard to get all that cleaned up and cleared up."

He added that all of the buses pulled from the roadway in January were "all back and out now" and stressed that the situation "is something that we're taking very seriously."

This week's findings, however, did not live up to the expected outcome.

"Although the overall score was slightly improved from January's inspection, four out of 10 school buses were parked by the inspector due to safety violations, including brake issues, an inoperable stop-arm light and a missing first aid kit," Taylor said. "It is apparent that the district's plan to improve school bus safety inspections did not work effectively and more administrative actions need to be taken."

In addition to the aforementioned defects, others cited in the preliminary report included oil leaks, unsecured passenger cushions and issues with emergency exits and warning lights.

In 2010-2011, the district's school bus inspection score was 33.95, better than most districts in the eastern region, which had an average of 43.9. On a rating score of 0-100, zero is considered a perfect score.

The next two years, the district was ranked among the worst in the state for safety scores. In 2011-2012, WCPS scored 86.4 and it improved only slightly the following year, with 78.

The transportation department was mandated by district officials to develop a maintenance improvement plan and "immediately implement it," Derksen said.

Then came the January inspection, when scores again rose, to 85.85. This week's inspection score was 73.10.

Taylor responded to the state's findings Wednesday afternoon, releasing a list of administrative actions that will be "taken immediately":

* No later than June 1, there will be an administrative restructuring of transportation staff

* The WCPS administration will evaluate the performance and competencies of all transportation department staff as well as review and assess the organization, process and procedures within the department

* A flex schedule will be maintained until the end of the school year to give mechanics access to the entire fleet in evenings and on weekends to conduct regular school bus safety inspections

* Prior to the start of the 2014-2015 school year, WCPS will partner with the NCDPI Transportation Services Section to have a state inspection team come to Wayne County to conduct a safety inspection of all district school buses.