The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters have discovered when it comes to keeping tabs on school bus drivers, the system in place does not always get high marks.
Thousands of school bus drivers who get into trouble land on a disqualification list. The Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles maintains it and it includes anyone who has had their school bus or passenger endorsement suspended or revoked. NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters obtained a log of who checks it, and how often--which remained a mystery until we started asking questions.
One of our state's largest school bus operators, Dattco, said it checks the disqualification list every day. The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters learned not all school bus operators do that. A review of the 26 largest shows a third have not logged in to check the disqualification list for months, even years. State law said school bus operators are supposed to check every two weeks or they're subject to fines starting at $1000.
Newington public schools Superintendent William Collins admits records show his district had not checked the school bus driver disqualification list in over six months, insisting his staff made an honest mistake, "Thought they were doing what they were supposed to be doing, but it just didn't work out that way."
Collins explained his transportation staff didn't log in properly and were actually going over the same outdated list every two weeks since last summer. Once we alerted the district to the error it said staffers checked and determined there were no bus drivers that were disqualified during the time when they had not been checking the list properly.
Collins said there are several issues with the disqualification list. It is long, requires a log in, and staffers have to understand spreadsheet software.
“I'm pretty tech savvy, and I spent three to five hours trying to get into it myself,” Collin said.
Some operators have farmed out school bus driver checks to a third party, which is permitted. Others, like Salter's Express in Simsbury, go to the DMV's public website and check the license status of their school bus drivers there. The DMV said while that complies with the spirit of the law, its public website does not have the same detail on school bus drivers and there's no way of knowing if operators are actually checking their status.
Problem is, even if operators do go to the DMV disqualification list, the system was designed to only show the last time a school bus operator logged in to the system. So, there's no way of telling if they're checking twice a month.
DMV spokesman Bill Seymour explained, “The legislature did not require that the system be designed so there were look backs to it.”
What's more, when this law was written a decade ago, it never called for the DMV, or any other agency to make sure school bus operators were checking up on their drivers.
Seymour added, “As with many other administrative laws, it's self-policing, and it's up to them to check."
When this law was initially proposed, the state's Office of Fiscal Analysis questioned if the self-policing aspect would work, and said it was, “unclear how this fine would be enforced.”