MSP: Area school buses fare well in annual report

MECOSTA, OSCEOLA COUNTIES — Results for area school districts were generally positive in a report by Michigan State Police on buses, which was compiled during the 2017-18 school year and released this week.

However, 21 buses in the area were “red-tagged” by MSP, meaning that police found a problem that required the bus to be taken off the road immediately and repaired before students were allowed to ride again. Another 16 were given “yellow tags,” indicating the vehicle was safe to operate but had to problems that needed to be fixed within 60 days.

Area superintendents said buses given tags were withdrawn from service immediately. Most required only minor fixes and were repaired within days.

Another 109 inspections undertaken by MSP of buses at Crossroads Charter Academy, Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District, Reed City Area Public Schools, Evart Public Schools, Big Rapids Public Schools, Chippewa Hills School District, Morley Stanwood Community Schools were approved with no tags being assigned.

“I really want parents to understand that it a very thorough inspection,” said Chippewa Hills Superintendent Bob Grover. “When the Michigan State Police assigns a red tag to our buses, they don’t let it back on (the road) until they inspect it again. So, all of the buses that are on the road right now are safe for kids. That is our main priority.”

Out of 37 reports made by MSP, Chippewa Hills had 11 buses red-tagged and four yellow-tagged. Twenty-two buses passed their inspections.

Grover noted in some cases, MSP red-tags buses due to relatively minor issues. One bus was given a failing grade due to a broken tailpipe hanger, he said, and was quickly repaired. Not all issues raised by inspectors are considered minor — one Chippewa Hills bus was revealed to have issues with a fuel tank, which also was rectified.

Aided by the 2015 passage of a bond proposal, Grover said Chippewa Hills is going through a process of recycling its aging fleet of buses, some of which hit the road back in 1999. He said the school district buys anywhere from two to four new buses per year — but with so many buses, it’s going to take some time to catch up.

“What I look at is, of the number that were red-tagged, I want to know how old they were,” Grover said. “In this case, 75 percent of the buses that were red-tagged were 10 years or older. That tells me, recycling is working.”

BRPS Superintendent Tim Haist said the district has, over the past two years, purchased five buses that are less than three years old, and plans to purchase at least one more, with proceeds from a bond passed in May.

“Our hope is to continue to turn over the fleet over the next couple of years as well,” Haist said. “We feel that this year’s inspection that will take place in the next month will be better, more successful, and we’ll have fewer issues to deal with because of the improvements we’ve been able to make to our buses.”

BRPS had eight passing reports, with seven buses earning yellow tags and six receiving red flags.

Haist added Big Rapids has recently added security cameras to the interiors of buses, in the hopes of managing students’ behaviors while they ride, and replaced a 40-year-old radio system used by bus drivers and the district’s transportation department.

Morley Stanwood Superintendent Roger Cole said the district replaces its fleet every two years, thanks to lease agreements the district has signed. The leases save the district money on repairs and ensure the buses are a safe ride for students, he said.

“Irrespective of how new or old your bus is, the person behind the wheel is vital and we have a very good group of drivers,” he said.

Morley Stanwood had 27 passing reports, with five buses earning yellow tags and two receiving red flags.

Other results included:

  • Reed City: 25 passed, none yellow-tagged, none red-tagged.
  • Evart: 16 passed, none yellow-tagged, none red-tagged.
  • Mecosta-Osceola ISD: 10 passed, none yellow-tagged, one red-tagged.
  • Crossroads Charter Academy: One passed, none yellow-tagged, one red-tagged.

Sgt. Danielle Stewart, of the MSP Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division, said 17,000 vehicles were reviewed by 11 inspectors as part of the report. The most common violations included rusted body components and exhaust issues, she said.

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