State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released an audit Friday that examined seven upstate school districts and their compliance with school bus safety requirements. The audit found school districts are not confirming all school bus drivers are completing required training and drug testing, and that school bus safety drills and inspections are done.
“When parents place their children on school buses each day, they do so with the expectation that every safety measure possible has been fulfilled,” said DiNapoli. “Failing to ensure that school bus drivers are properly trained and vetted, and safety drills take place could endanger students. With the upcoming school year upon us, superintendents and school boards need to act quickly to address their district’s shortcomings identified in our audit.”
DiNapoli’s audit focused on seven districts in upstate New York during the 2016-17 school year: Clarence Central School District (Erie County), Cornwall Central School District (Orange), Horseheads Central School District (Chemung), Rome City School District (Oneida), Saratoga Springs City School District (Saratoga), Watertown City School District (Jefferson) and the West Irondequoit Central School District (Monroe).
Of the seven districts examined, five contracted out with eight different vendors for some or all of their student transportation needs. Three of those five also provided some in-house transportation. The remaining two districts provided all in-house transportation.
Auditors reviewed the districts’ and vendors’ compliance with five state and federal requirements. Specifically, they examined whether drivers were subject to random drug testing, completed required safety training and were annually approved by the district superintendent. Auditors also looked into whether or not districts and vendors conducted and documented bus safety drills and bus inspections were completed and reviewed.
Horseheads met three of the five requirements, while Rome and Saratoga Springs met none. Clarence, Cornwall, Watertown and West Irondequoit only met one of the requirements.
Not All Drivers Were Subject to Drug and Alcohol Testing
Drivers for Cornwall and West Irondequoit were all documented as subject to random drug and alcohol tests. The other five districts and vendors did not have processes in place to ensure that their current roster of drivers were included on the random drug and alcohol testing list.
In West Irondequoit, neither the district nor the vendor could provide documentation to support that two of its drivers, who began transporting students in 1999 and 2006, completed mandatory drug and alcohol tests.
Safety Drills Not Always Properly Conducted
Students are required to participate in a minimum of three bus safety drills each school year. These drills are required for all students, not only those who consistently ride the bus. The drills are to address various topics, including emergency evacuation, safe boarding and exiting, seasonal weather hazards, bus behavior and rules, and seat belt usage.
Of the 864 required drills required during the period examined, 324 (38 percent) either lacked evidence that they were conducted or lacked a district official’s signature indicating they were observed. Two districts – Horseheads, which provides in-house transportation, and Watertown, which contracts out for a majority of its transportation needs – completed and adequately documented all required safety drills.
The remaining five districts either could not provide documentation to support that all safety drills were conducted or provided documentation that lacked a district official’s signature.
Bus Inspections Fall Short
Buses should have daily pre-trip inspections conducted prior to each run, whereby the driver indicates that they have observed various aspects of the bus and that all is in proper working order.
While the majority of the districts and vendors examined did conduct pre-trip inspections, there was no documented review of all pre-trip inspections reports by the head mechanic or another designated official, as recommended by the State Education Department. Therefore, districts may lack assurance that all pre-trip inspections are performed. This could result in hazardous issues not being identified on the buses or that identified hazards are not corrected in a timely manner.
For example, auditors observed that Rome’s 11 in-house drivers did not conduct the pre-trip inspections; however, the auditors did find documentation indicating the inspections had been completed.
Not All Drivers Trained as Required
While all districts and vendors had individuals who were responsible for facilitating training and ensuring that drivers met all requirements, auditors found that all but one district had deficiencies. Of the 777 district and vendor drivers reviewed, 169 (22 percent) did not complete the required training. In Rome, 53 percent of drivers lacked proper training documentation. Horseheads was the only district to have documentation to support that each of the district drivers attended all required training.
Complaints Not Adequately Documented
None of the school districts examined were properly recording, investigating or following up on complaints made by citizens, parents and employees with regard to drivers, monitors, attendants, bus stops or any other safety concerns. The lack of a centralized complaint log and process could result in specific dangers not being identified or resolved. This creates a risk that issues and problems could go unnoticed and result in safety risks for students.
Not All Superintendents Annually Approved Drivers
While Clarence and Horseheads superintendents annually approved all their drivers, Cornwall, Rome, Saratoga Springs, Watertown and West Irondequoit superintendents did not. Failure to annually approve drivers creates a risk that any known issues regarding a driver may not be considered in evaluating the driver’s fitness.
DiNapoli recommended school officials take immediate steps to address the deficiencies identified in the audit, including:
•Ensuring that the superintendent annually approve all drivers that transport district students, including contracted transportation vendor drivers.
• Taking an active role in overseeing transportation department and contracted vendors’ activities and their compliance with requirements. This should include ensuring that:
o All drivers meet the minimum training requirements to transport district students;
o All drivers are included on the random drug and alcohol testing list;
o All drivers are subject to observation by a trained official to ensure that they are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol prior to starting a run;
o All bus safety drills are actively observed and all safety drill forms are signed; and
o All buses have pre-trip inspections conducted, reviewed timely and adequately documented.
• Establishing procedures for the intake, documentation and resolution of complaints.