SoCal, NoCal earn perfect scores on bus safety

Mandi Steele/FULTON SUN photo: Buses line up at Fulton High School at the end of the school day Tuesday. North Callaway and South Callaway school districts earned 100 percent ratings during recent Missouri State Highway Patrol bus inspections.

Mandi Steele/FULTON SUN photo: Buses line up at Fulton High School at the end of the school day Tuesday. North Callaway and South Callaway school districts earned 100 percent ratings during recent Missouri State Highway Patrol bus inspections.

Two Callaway County school districts earned 100 percent ratings during recent Missouri State Highway Patrol bus inspections, while another received an initial 97 percent pass and the fourth continues to improve.

South Callaway R-II Transportation Director Donnie DeBrodie said a cohesive, hard-working staff is the secret behind his district's sixth-straight perfect score, despite continued decreases in transportation funding statewide.

"It's getting harder and harder to do with all the budget cuts," DeBrodie said. "It's just the transportation department pulling together. Tracey Vandelicht is just a tremendous mechanic.

"(Inspection day) is a very stressful day, and to pull it all together for a sixth year in a row is great."

Vandelicht said to him, the motivation to make the district's fleet in top condition is all about student safety.

"We're hauling kids, we want to keep them safe," Vandelicht said.

He said South Callaway services each bus every 4,000 and 8,000 miles, noting that maintenance also is performed each time a bus comes in for other work if issues are noted during the daily inspections conducted by the drivers.

"We look at it while it's in the shop," Vandelicht said. "We try to take care of what we've got."

North Callaway R-I also received a 100 percent bus inspection, for the second year in a row.

Superinendent Bryan Thomsen also attributed his district's 12th 100 percent rating in a row — and 14th year in a row at 90 percent or higher — to the members of his transportation department staff.

"(Transportation Director) Rich Gathwright and (mechanic) Lawrence Jenkins, they're both 100 percent responsible for that," Thomsen said. "They do an outstanding job and we're so lucky to have them."

Like DeBrodie, Thomsen said North Callaway has faced challenges because of decreased transportation funding, but not in the same way as other districts might have seen.

"For a rural district, transportation is such an important part. We can't cut back on transportation like some larger districts can," Thomsen said. "We have to keep getting students to school, so funding cuts cause us to take (that money) out of our operations fund."

Fulton's transportation department also did well, with an initial score of 97 percent.

"We had a cracked brake line that was repaired before they left," Superintendent Jacque Cowherd said.

Beth Livingston, the local manager for Durham Bus Services, which provides transportation for New Bloomfield R-III, said that although their initial score of 85 percent was lower than they would like, it is a sign of improvement.

"This is the highest score we've had since school year 2006-07," Livingston said. "We still have room for improvement, obviously, but we're continuing to do better."

Livingston said the fleet's low score had two main causes.

"One bus didn't pass because of rear axle leaks — we had that bus repaired and reinspected and back on the road in two days," she said. "Another was rejected because the lettering on the side was peeling."

Although happy that her service had received its highest score in several years, Livingston said she will not be completely satisfied until Durham is able to achieve excellence.

"Our goal is to have the excellence award, and for that you have to have at least 90 percent," Livingston said. "I'm confident we'll be able to get it next year."

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