Local News

Wake School Buses Bring Home a Poor Report Card

Posted April 2, 2007 7:44 p.m. EDT

— Wake County Schools landed at the bottom of a state inspection report on school bus safety, and it’s unfamiliar territory for a system that often tops lists for education standards.

Officials in the district, where 68,000 pairs of young feet board a bus every day, admit that bus upkeep is an issue, and they have stepped up maintenance schedules.

In the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) rating system, points are awarded for problems. As in golf, a low score is better than a high one. Perfect would be a zero, and it goes up to 100. On that scale, a report that came out Monday gave Wake a 94.

For comparison, that's 40 points worse than average in eastern North Carolina.

“Wake County's score on the inspection this year is ... it's not exactly what we'd like to see,” said Derek Graham of the DPI.

Some buses had minor issues, such as low fluid levels. Some others were taken out of service with problems like faulty emergency exits.

The school system is taking its lumps, large and small, and viewing the inspection as a chance to improve.

“We've reorganized. We're addressing the issues on that list and, in fact, we're going to ask DPI for a re-inspection—probably within the next couple of months,” said Wake Schools spokesman Michael Evans.

Wake County was a leader in bus safety, but this year fared worse than Durham, Orange, Chatham, Johnston and Franklin counties. The explanation officials give is familiar to those concerned with the schools: growth.

Last year, officials say, 7,000 new students put a strain on the bus fleet.

“Our maintenance and operations people do a tremendous job of keeping the fleet rolling on a daily basis under these growth pressures. But on the other hand, we have to make sure that every bus is safe. That's our ultimate goal.”

The state and county say no students were in imminent danger from any of the violations.

The state inspects 10 percent of each school system's buses once a year.

In the latest round, Orange County scored 48, Johnston County Johnston 44 and Durham County schools were near the top with 16.