‘No kids have been injured — ever’
Editor’s note: An in-depth media investigation uncovered worrisome issues with Arizona school buses—a concern we felt might be shared by Wrangler News readers. Contributing writer Joyce Coronel took a look at the safety records of the Tempe Elementary and Kyrene school districts. Here is what she found:
In the wake of an Arizona Republic exposé that revealed shocking safety failures in some Arizona school buses, parents of students in the Tempe Elementary and Kyrene school districts can breathe easy.
“No kids have been injured, ever,” said Jessica Palmer, director of transportation and safety for Tempe Elementary.
“Never, ever. Safety is our number one priority.”
Eric Nethercutt, transportation director for Kyrene, offered similar counsel. He said that in the four years he’s been at the helm, there have been no serious accidents and no students hurt.
The Republic provided a searchable data base with listings of school districts throughout the state. In South Phoenix, the Roosevelt district scored a 73 percent failure, the highest in Maricopa County.
By contrast, Tempe Elementary and Kyrene scored a stellar 1 and 2 percent respectively.
“When we do the driver refresher course every year, we really drive home that this is someone’s precious cargo—this is someone’s life, and treat these kids as if they are your own,” Palmer said.
“I think that puts it in perspective when you’re dealing with other people’s children—it’s the most important thing.”
And while other districts sometimes have to call on mechanics to drive buses, that’s not the case in either Tempe Elementary or Kyrene. It takes about eight to nine weeks to train and certify new drivers, and both districts are looking to hire more.
For now, Palmer is herself driving a school bus twice a day until new drivers are certified by the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
“When I drive my personal route every day, I treat these kids, all 55 of them who sit behind me, like they’re my own,” Palmer said.
She emphasized that Tempe’s buses undergo twice-daily inspections while in use throughout the school year. The fleet is comprised of 79 buses, including 13 spares.
“If there’s any sort of infraction, whether it’s a light or the air brakes, we (take the bus out of service). We’re not taking any chances of something happening,” Palmer said.
“If a bus is not safe, it just doesn’t go out—period.” It’s a responsibility the mechanics in the district’s yard take to heart. “They know that these are special packages that we deliver every day,” Palmer said. If it has a cracked windshield or other issues, “it won’t pass a pre-trip inspection, so it just doesn’t go out. That’s why we have spare buses.”
Nethercutt said much the same, adding that of Kyrene’s 130 buses, 110 are propane-fueled and have seatbelts. The district has 100 routes and 102 drivers.
“Student safety is our number one priority. We drive 6,000 kids twice a day, and we drive 1.5 million miles a year,” Nethercutt said. Before they go out on a route, drivers check brake lights, turn blinkers, emergency lighting and tires. He also pointed to the monthly, quarterly and yearly preventive maintenance on the buses.
“We perform maintenance at the scheduled intervals to ensure that buses are in good repair because, like I said, student safety is our number one goal.”
Both Palmer and Nethercutt stated that buses in their districts have been involved in minor accidents, but that no students were injured.
“Mostly it’s just people clipping our mirrors, so it’s nothing on our drivers’ part. We’ve had a few people hit the back of our buses when we stop at railroad tracks,” Palmer said.
“Almost always, it is another person driving a car,” Nethercutt said.