Bus Inspection Problems Plague Rural Michigan School Districts

November 19, 2014

Michigan State Police inspections have found that small, rural school districts experienced the most problems with their buses during the 2013-14 school year.

As for Michigan as a whole, The Detroit News reported that state police figures show the number of buses that failed inspection rose from 7.6 percent in 2011-12 to 9.5 percent in 2012-13 and 10.2 percent in 2013-14.

A state police official said the failure rate rises and falls as school districts replenish their fleets and that budgets, the quality of roads and mechanics all play into the differences between urban and rural districts.

“The trend is cyclic,” said Randy Coplin, assistant commander of the commercial vehicle enforcement division.

The Mason County Central Schools district in western Michigan said it would replace a few of its aging buses every year, but it went a decade without replacing any because of budget constraints. Thirteen of its 18 buses failed inspection.

“Our fleet is really old,” said Jim Stapleton, garage supervisor for Mason County Central. “The … inspectors don’t lighten up on you just because you’re rural.”

The rust on some buses for Mason County Central Schools was so bad that holes have formed on side panels, exposing the insulation beneath, the newspaper reported. Some of the school district’s 18 vehicles have logged 300,000 miles since 1995.

After an inspection, buses are placed in one of three categories: pass, yellow or red. Yellow means the vehicle is safe to operate but has problems that need to be fixed within 60 days. Red means the problem is so severe the bus must be taken off the road immediately.

In Galesburg-Augusta Community Schools, police said three of 20 buses failed inspection because of suspension trouble and leaks from exhaust and air brake systems. Parent Ken Cote, whose two children attend Galesburg schools, said he was glad the reasons weren’t more severe.

“If it was something serious, I’d be the first one to say something,” he said. “But we don’t live in a gumballs and jellybeans perfect world.”

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