By JIM KRAJEWSKI
The Webster City Community School District Board of Directors met last night to hear several reports and updates. Director of Transportation Ted Larson gave a report on the state of the school district's transportation and bus system.
The school's buses have aged an average of 12 years, according to Larson. He said other school districts he has spoken to agree that a good average to keep on buses is about 15 years. Larson said the district is in a good place due to his department's aggressiveness on replacing old vehicles. Those buses go about 114,000 miles in a year.
During his report to the board, Larson also discussed new cameras on the sides of newly purchased school buses. These cameras would be used to identify drivers who illegally drive past buses while they are stopped and students are entering or exiting the vehicle. Passing a bus illegally is a $680 fine and a 30 day loss of license.
During the four weeks that school has been in session this year, Larson said there have been five of these incidents. They have occurred on rural, town and preschool routes. These side cameras cost $200, but they are not the only cameras that buses have at their disposal.
Larson said every bus on pickup or drop off routes has cameras installed. He said it has been extremely helpful in resolving disputes between students or between a driver and a student. The cost of putting a camera on the interior bus costs $2,600, according to Larson. He said the benefits outweigh the cost.
"It takes all the question out of 'he said, she said,'" Larson said. "It's not 'Johnny didn't do it.' Johnny did do it, because here it is. It's a set of eyes and ears on the front and back of the bus when drivers have to focus on the road."
In addition, Larson said that all two-way radios in buses made prior to 2000 will have to be replaced. This is because the Federal Communications Commission has pushed all wide-band radios to narrow-band in an effort to open up space in the airways as it becomes increasingly congested. Existing radios will be pushed to a low-band frequency and high-band frequencies will become available for licensing.
"We've known this was coming for three years, so every bus that we've purchased in the last three years, we put the new radios in. All we have to do now is switch them over," Larson said.
Several new radios had to be purchased for older vehicles, which cost about $500.
Larson said the school year has kicked off very well for the transportation department. There haven't been any issues regarding maintenance and he said students have been doing very well. He said busing preschool students.
Larson also took time to discuss a recent article in the Des Moines Register which asked in its headline, "Are your kids safe on the school bus?" The article said inspectors have cited the same districts for safety risks many times, and that included the Webster City School District. Larson said it touched a nerve with him.
He said on each bus, there are 68 points of inspection, including seat covers, lights, brakes and more. He said the Register made it sound like there were districts that were not fixing things. Larson gave an example, saying if a seat cover had a tear, it would have to be replaced. Buses needing fixing are cataloged and sent to the Iowa Department of Education Transportation Department and the district has 30 days to replace that torn seat.
Larson said here is where the paper got its facts wrong. He has had situations where, for several days in a row, students will poke holes in seats with pencils. He said even when that seat is fixed, if an inspector finds another hole or tear, the reports don't clarify the difference.
"The way the Register made it sound was that we, transportation directors, mechanics, whatever, weren't fixing things. So it can be a different problem that appears to be the same problem," Larson said.
After he read the article, Larson went to the bus barn to identify what inspections the Register referenced for the district. He said a brand new bus in 2009 was cited, which was produced with an LED stoplight. That light, made up of 30 smaller lights, had one bulb burned out. That bus was not a regular route bus, but regardless, Larson fixed it and the production company recalled it.
After regular inspection every six months, a defective diode in the light was found and the company recalled it again.
"Yes, it was the same light," Larson said. "But a different light on that stopline light. Our buses are safe. Our kids are safe," Larson said.
He reiterated, saying every district's first priority is child safety to, in and from school. He said making the district look negligent on purpose really upset him.
After Larson's report, the board also spoke heard an update from the technology committee, which is continuing to install wireless internet in district buildings. A facility update also highlighted the district's interest in replacing old boilers for high efficiency models. The high school and both elementary school buildings will have architects visiting soon and Superintendent Mike Sherwood said their visit will have recommendations for the board in November.