By Ethan Colbert
In 2016, the Missouri State Highway Patrol approved thirteen of the Bowling Green R-I School District’s 23 buses after an inspection, while nine buses were labeled as defective and one bus was taken out of service.
In 2017, twelve of the school district’s buses were approved by the highway patrol. Eleven buses were classified as defective and none were taken out of service.
Earlier this year, 15 of the school district’s 23 buses were approved and eight buses were labeled as defective.
Bowling Green R-I Superintendent of Schools Dr. Matthew Frederickson said week that this year’s bus inspection report shows “real progress.”
“I am very happy to see that this is the best result that we have received over the last three years,” Frederickson said in an interview with the Times. He later added, “When the inspectors left, none of our buses were taken out of service, which means that they were all passing inspection.”
Each year, the highway patrol inspects each of the school buses used by Missouri’s public and private schools.
During the inspection, buses found to have no defective items are rated as “approved,” according to the highway patrol.
Buses with one or more defective items, which do not constitute an immediate danger or hazard, are rated as “defective.”
Buses with a defective item, which constitutes an immediate danger, are rated as “out of service” or “out of commission.”
School districts are allowed 10 days following the initial inspection to repair identified defects before being re-inspected by the highway patrol.
In his interview, the local school superintendent said that the terms used by the highway patrol do not always paint an accurate picture of the inspection’s findings, particularly the word “defective.”
“When they come for the inspection, they are looking for everything,” Frederickson said. “They are looking for filters that need to be changed or a bulb that needs to be replaced. It can be that the red on the stop sign on the bus is not quite dark enough.”
Last week, the Louisiana Press-Journal reported that while Louisiana R-II and Pike County R-III received perfect scores on their bus inspections that Bowling Green R-I had the poorest scores of any of public school districts in Pike County.
Frederickson said in his interview that comparing Bowling Green’s numbers to neighboring school districts is “like comparing apples and oranges.”
“What that report gives you is a percentage,” Frederickson said. “Percentages can mean a lot of different things.”
Frederickson said that the annual inspection fails to take into account that the local school district is geographically one of the largest in the state, while neighboring school districts are more geographically compact.
“This is the twelfth largest school district in the state of Missouri in terms of size,” Frederickson said. “So our school buses are out on the roads a long time compared to other school districts. They are out driving on county roads, which are primarily gravel roads, and those are hard on buses.”
Frederickson also discussed in his interview that the school district is using a bus fleet that features several older buses.
“We have 23 buses in our fleet,” Frederickson said. “Fourteen of those buses are regularly ran on routes. The majority of those buses are less than five years old. However, there are a few of them that are from 2005 or before.”
According to Frederickson, the school district previously purchased one school bus a year to try and keep the fleet modern. However, the school board stopped purchasing buses amidst budget concerns several years ago.
“They came out of those budget issues and started buying buses again,” Frederickson said. “However, we have some buses that are still in the rotation that are dragging us down. Once we get those four buses out of the rotation, then we will see a big jump in our numbers.”
In his interview, the local school superintendent also said he is anticipating that Bowling Green will continue to show improved scores in next year’s inspection.
“Most of the school districts our size have a transportation director and a mechanic working alongside the director,” Frederickson said. “The school board has approved the preliminary budget last month and included in the budget a mechanic position so that we can go and try find someone to work with Mr. Bailey.”
According to Frederickson, bringing an additional mechanic will help the school transportation department complete more regular inspections during the school year on the buses.
“This will allow him (Bailey) more time to go through the buses with a fine tooth comb,” Frederickson said.