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September 18, 2013

State releases local school district bus inspection report

Most RCS buses pass, Avondale receives perfect score

By Mary Beth Almond
C & G Staff Writer

ROCHESTER — Buses have hit the roads for the 2013-14 school year, and a new report suggests parents in the Avondale Schools and Rochester Community Schools districts can rest assured their children are in good hands as they travel to and from school.

The Michigan State Police Traffic Safety Division conducts school bus inspections throughout the state each Sept. 1-Aug. 31, and publishes a report of its findings. Inspections cover a district’s ability to maintain a vehicle’s mechanical areas, such as brakes, steering and suspension; as well as whether it supplies items like first-aid kits, warning lights and safety equipment.

According to the Michigan State Police Traffic Safety Division, 113 buses of RCS’s 117 fleet — which travels more than 1 million miles each year — passed state inspection in the third quarter of 2013.

Durham School Services began providing transportation services for RCS at the start of the 2012-13 school year, under a three-year contract that is expected to save the district approximately $4.7 million over the three-year period. Under the contract, Durham operates 104 home-to-school routes transporting approximately 7,500 general education students and 800 non-public school students each day.

Out of the four Durham buses that didn’t pass immediate inspection, three were red-tagged and one was yellow-tagged. A red-tagged bus indicates at least one defect that has the potential to cause a breakdown or is a passenger safety hazard, and the vehicle is immediately taken off the road for repair, while a yellow tag indicates defects that do not affect safety but must be repaired within 60 days by law.

The three buses that were red-tagged had various issues — one had an air leak in the dashboard, one had a minor exhaust leak, and one had a loose battery, according to Colleen Mayes, general manager of Durham School Services. She said mechanics replaced the leaking dashboard valve and the ceiling clamp, and secured the battery, all before the state inspector completed his report.

“The state inspector is only here for five days maximum … and they were back out on the road prior to him leaving,” she said.

A broken exhaust hanger, along with a crack in the door glass that Mayes said was missed by mechanics because it was right next to the rubber, earned the fourth bus a yellow flag. She said both parts were replaced, and the bus was given the OK to head back on the road.

Mayes, who also managed the district’s transportation system for a number of years before being hired by Durham as party of the privatization process, said she is “ecstatic” about the results of the inspection.

“We’ve never been under 10 red flags under my management, and I’ve been the manager for about 15 years. This year, we only had three, so it’s the best we’ve ever had,” she said. “Our goal is always zero red tags, and we’re going to get there.”

The positive report is a testament to the transportation staff’s high level of performance, according to Mayes, who said three mechanics and a fleet supervisor check RCS’s bus fleet every 120 days and all the bus drivers conduct daily inspections on their vehicles prior to driving, as well as after their shift is over.

“They start the bus up, they look at all the lights on the dash in the inside of the bus, they check the inside of the bus, check to make sure that the seats are secure, and they walk the entire inside of the bus. Then they go outside and make sure their flashers are working, all their lights are on, all headlights are on, the engine compartment door is latched, the emergency doors work; they check the roof hatches — they have a very intense pre-trip check every morning and afternoon, and then when they get back, they do a post-trip inspection which ensures that they do a child check to make sure that there are no children left on the bus, and then they walk around the bus one more time outside to make sure that there is nothing wrong with it,” she added.

The Avondale Schools district busing system received a perfect score from Michigan State Police inspectors.

“It’s great news,” said Avondale Schools Superintendent George Heitsch.

All bus drivers are Avondale School employees, Heitsch explained, adding that the district owns half of its 20-bus fleet and leases the other half. 

“We’re very pleased with the quality of service we’re able to provide through our transportation department,” he said.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Mary Beth Almond at malmond@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1060.