Staff Shortage Blamed for Bus Violations


Bus drivers described having to inspect their school buses at 5:30 a.m., in the dark, with flashlights, then having no one to give the paperwork to.

The mechanic at the bus garage, who worked 20 hours a week on repairs at most, was often filling in for other drivers, driving routes himself.

When state inspectors from the Department of Motor Vehicles showed up and started tallying up problems with the buses, the mechanic simply could not keep up, Superintendent Jack Welch told the school board Monday.

“It’s a staffing issue,” Welch said.

Preston was issued seven tickets, fined $1,749, and had to hire two consultants to inspect the buses the first weekend in January to make sure they met state standards and could go back on the road for the start of school Jan. 5. It cost the town $45,563.

More than 50 parents and drivers jammed the meeting Monday at Preston Plains School.

Welch said he has since hired a full-time mechanic on a short-term basis, at a cost of $1,000 a day, to ensure the proper work is done.


“I cannot tell everyone at that table how disappointed I am in all of you,” resident Gale Ennis told the Board of Education and Welch. She said after listening to the meeting, she doesn’t know how the drivers do their job.

Drivers said they would never drive children if they felt unsafe.

“We do our best, we do it in the dark, and these are my children,” said Cheryl Coutu, a bus driver.

The round of bus inspections started in November. Between Nov. 12 and Dec. 22, inspectors went through the fleet, looking for reports and possible safety violations. On Dec. 22, Welch said he was informed by the business manager that the garage had called and an inspector “intended to shut us down.”

In one case, the inspector discovered that on one bus — bus 4 — paperwork indicated a repair had been done when, in fact, it had not. The bus did not go out on the road.

“Submitting a false report, attesting to a repair that did not happen is improper,” Welch said.


He said several steps would be taken to correct the problem.

Welch met with drivers last week, along with the inspector, to discuss their obligations in inspecting buses. He also said training would be helpful, and that was expected to happen today.

All reports citing safety violations will now be copied and sent to the central office, Welch said. He also placed the business manager in charge of supervising the garage in addition to her other duties.

“No one in the employ of Preston Public Schools, most of whom are parents themselves, would ever place children at risk,” he said.

The first issue may be dealing with the need for more mechanics. Preston, until now, had a part-time mechanic for 18 buses.

Dattco Inc. of New Britain, by comparison, has a full-time mechanic for every five to six vehicles.

Although Preston’s buses were bought in 2005 and 2006, they’re all pushing 60,000 miles and need maintenance.

“We have to make some decisions,” Welch said. “We have to come up with a permanent game plan.”

If you would like to find out more about the school bus your child rides, call Superintendent Jack Welch at 889-6098, and ask to see the most recent inspection report on the bus.
Copyright NORBL - Norwich Bulletin
Contact Us