10 Investigates School bus driver records

This story was originally published May 7, 2014.

Tampa, Florida -- It happens in a matter of seconds, and only takes once for children to face serious consequences.

Nationwide, school bus crashes happen 144 times a day -- that's 26,000 times a year -- sending 17,000 children to the hospital.

10 Investigates has spent months pouring over hundreds of Tampa Bay area school bus driver records. They found each district disciplined about 10 percent of their bus drivers for everything from minor infractions, like side-swiping a mirror, to crashing into a vehicle with the school bus full of students.

Every school district has a similar policy for driver accountability, tracking each incident by applying points to the driver's record.

All districts we reviewed have a point threshold for school bus drivers that allows them to have multiple crashes and citations in one year, and continue driving without being removed from their position.

Although districts address drivers with recurring issues — retraining those drivers, and occasionally suspending them for a day or two — many just continue driving students to and from school.

After requesting school bus drivers' discipline records and related documents, the 10 Investigates team faced pushback from school districts that were quick to charge hundreds of dollars for simple public records requests.

Some districts, such as Sarasota and Hillsborough County, told us they did not have any electronic database for tracking which of their school bus drivers had been disciplined and how many points each driver had accumulated.

Hillsborough County spent two work days compiling the information of just the drivers who have been disciplined and the total number of points they had in the last three years

"The Sarasota County School District does not keep a list of bus drivers who receive points for driving violations, or a list of those who have been disciplined or counseled for driving infractions. This information is kept in the individual files of the over 250 drivers we employ," Sarasota County School District spokesperson Scott Ferguson told us in an email.

We also checked with the Department of Education (DOE) to verify the district's required procedure for tracking your child's school bus driver's record. 10 Investigates learned the DOE sends an automatic update each week to each school district in the state. It's called the Automated School Bus Driver's License Record Check System. The report comes from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and lists any drivers in the district who've had any incidents, such as citations or crashes on their driving record — including personal time — within the last week.

If there are no incidents, then the driver's name would not be on the list for that week.

When we requested the district's Automated School Bus Driver's License Record Check System report, many districts were not aware of the information that is sent to them weekly.

According to Florida Statute 6A-3.0141 Employment of School Bus Drivers, each district must check the already employed driver's records with this automated weekly report, and if they don't they are then required prior to check their records the first day of each semester of the regular school year, and prior to the first day of summer school for any driver who will be transporting students during summer school.

That means with no database, some districts are manually combing through hundreds of drivers records. Hillsborough County is the largest school district in the area, employing 957 drivers, and Sarasota County is one of the smallest, employing 250 drivers.

We reviewed the drivers in Bay Area districts with the highest number of discipline points on their records in the last three years. We then investigated the reports to find out who is driving your child to school?

Among the records, drivers were reported cutting corners, hitting other vehicles, and we even found a Manatee County school bus driver failing to yield to an emergency vehicle and ended up crashing.

The crash report documented the driver "did not see or hear" the fire truck passing to the left of the school bus.

In Sarasota County, we found a school bus driver who was cited for failing to observe a stop sign and reported hitting a child on a bicycle. According to the report, the child was uninjured in the accident and the driver received just four points on her record for the incident.

10 Investigates found several examples in each county of drivers with careless driving, speeding, and other citations, as well as multiple crashes on their records in just the past three years.

Some prime examples are Victoria Ewing in Pinellas, Gwen Adams in Sarasota, and Katrina Bailey in Hillsborough, who all have multiple crashes and at least one careless driving citation in the past three years but continue driving busloads of students.

In addition to the driving records, a recent state audit of Manatee County Schools, the smallest district -- employing 152 drivers --revealed two Manatee County school bus drivers were driving students for months on a suspended commercial license in the last year.

Manatee Director of Transportation Sheryl Riker said safety is the district's number one priority, and in the case of the drivers who did not have their commercial license, Riker explained to us they failed to file their medical card with the DMV.

"I would never put anyone out there that I felt was not going to be able to bring your child back to your arms at the end of the day," Riker said.

When we reviewed Manatee County drivers records further, we found driver Yanira Rodrigues with 12 points on her record in the past three years, including two crashes, two at fault citations for careless driving with students on board, and another crash resulting in a citation for failing to stay in the proper lane.

Riker said drivers with multiple preventable accidents and careless driving citations are within their safety standards. "It fits within the model that we have and safe driver plan that we do use."

Driver Lawanda Clayton, who has 10 points in the last three years with two at-fault crashes, careless driving citations, and running a stop sign with children on board, is considered another acceptable driver.

We asked Riker, "You're fine with that?"

"She had one in 2011 which will be coming off in September of this year, and the other one was in 2012," Riker replied. "As we monitor and see somebody has had a couple of accidents, we monitor and do retraining to try to get that driver in line."

Drivers like Brian Crumpston, who was sent for retraining after 10 Investigates made inquiries, has seven points after two crashes resulting in two careless driving citations.

Riker replied, "I believe Brian's were all in his personal vehicle."

"Isn't that an indicator that they're a bad driver whether they're working or not working?"

"I'm not going to say they're a bad driver, but we do assess for their personal vehicle also," Riker said.

In a 2012 school bus crash, you can hear students on the school bus surveillance video screaming and warning the driver he is about to crash into a semi.

More than 20 students were sent to the hospital.

Manatee County substitute school bus driver Charles Orr was immediately fired after school officials reviewed the tape and determined Orr had been distracted while passing paperwork to students on the bus right before crashing into the semi.

However, 10 Investigates found it's very unusual for drivers to be fired for crashes and citations.

Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin said finding qualified drivers can be a challenge.

"We can't get enough bus drivers to drive our kids to school," Griffin said.

And that's a problem with every district, as they're always trying to hire new drivers.

We found Pinellas has 32 percent fewer drivers than three years ago, and Sarasota County has 27 percent less.

The average salary of a school bus driver is $19,000. Many do not work a forty hour work week and have to work a split shift.

According to statute 6A-3.0141 Employment of School Bus Drivers, drivers are required to complete 40 hours of pre-service training consisting of at least 20 hours of classroom instruction and eight hours of behind-the-wheel training based upon the Department's Basic School Bus Driver Curriculum.

Some question whether this training is sufficient to handle the children's behavior on the bus while maintaining focus on the road.

The school bus driver union has been fighting salary and benefits cuts, recently protesting in South Florida, so the challenge of finding drivers is one that every district faces.

Since the position doesn't pay that well and some districts acknowledge that many are unable to complete even the basic training, all districts are constantly trying to hire new drivers.

We asked Riker, "Is part of the reason the point system may be lower than parents would like because it so hard finding bus drivers?"

"Absolutely not, our point system is fair to drivers," Riker said.

So what does it take for a school bus driver to get fired?

Upon reviewing districts' terminated drivers in the last three years, we were told that none of the drivers were terminated because of their driving record or repeat preventable accidents. What was obvious is that the districts are terminating school bus drivers for absenteeism and attendance issues, among other rare exceptions.

In the largest district, Hillsborough County, we found Stephanie Wilkerson had four crashes from 2011 to 2012, hitting another school bus twice and hitting two cars on the road, but her driving record didn't cost her the job.

Instead, she was fired after literally kicking a child off the school bus and being charged with child abuse.

Michele Lieberstein racked up points against her record three times in 2006, once in 2009, another incident in 2011, and 2012 but was finally fired because it was determined she "failed to control the students on her bus."

We sat down with Hillsborough County School Transportation Director Chris Farkas and asked about Lieberstein's documented preventable accidents.

"Didn't that send up red flags?"

"Obviously we are uncomfortable with any of our drivers whether it is in a personal vehicle or a bus," Farkas said, "but as all of us know who drive the streets, sometimes that happens, but they are held to a higher standard."

However, our investigation found while districts say they hold drivers to a higher standard, school bus drivers are much more likely to get fired for missing a shift than poor driving.

"What we need from our parents is for drivers to show up and have the buses on the road to pick up their children every day," Riker said.

If you want to find out if your bus driver has been disciplined in the last 3 years, we posted the discipline points here:

Hillsborough County Bus Drivers

In our initial list of problem drivers the Hillsborough School District cited driver Glenda MaGee as having an at fault accident. However, when MaGee supplied additional information to the review committee she was determined not be at fault. Turns out the person who was supposed to notify the folks who compile the list, never did that.

Pinellas County Bus Drivers

Sarasota County Bus Drivers

Manatee County Bus Drivers

You also have the right to call the district and ask about your child's driver.


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