Local Editorials

Our view: Bald tires on school buses a sign more accountability needed from D47, D155

Reports from surprise IDOT inspections should be posted prominently on public websites and shared – in a timely manner

The Transportation Joint Agreement charged with getting thousands of Crystal Lake District 47 and Community High School District 155 students to school safely each day needs better oversight.

A surprise inspection of the TJA’s fleet by the Illinois Department of Transportation last October found 19 of the 85 buses failed to meet state safety standards. Eight of the 19 buses that failed inspections had violations serious enough that IDOT ordered the buses temporarily be put out of service until repairs were made. Even more alarming was the fact that a TJA employee purposely hid 10 buses from IDOT inspectors.

After learning about the hidden buses, we used this space in November 2017 to call on both school boards for an explanation of what happened. Elected officials on both school boards refused to do so.

Further investigation by Northwest Herald reporter Mike Mallory revealed the outcome of the inspection. Some of the problems found by state inspectors included:

• A leaking fuel tank on one bus, three buses with exhaust leaks and one with an unsecured fire exit.

• Two buses that did not meet the state requirement for tire tread depth on school buses. IDOT requires 1/8th of an inch of tire tread depth on the front tires of a bus and 1/16th of an inch of tire tread depth on the rear tires. One bus had 3/32nds of an inch of tire tread depth on its right front tire, while another had 1/16th of an inch of tire tread depth on the right front tire.

Neither school board publicly shared the results of the inspection. The TJA’s leaders – director of transportation Penny Fleming and assistant director Collin McCormick – declined requests for interviews with the Northwest Herald.

Instead, Fleming emailed a statement: “TJA is committed to student safety and continues to follow Illinois Department of Transportation bus inspection protocol and procedures. We addressed this matter with a statement in October and have no new information to share at this time.”

That’s not acceptable from the agency responsible for getting students safely to school. Especially after an IDOT report showed some buses had leaking fuel tanks, exhaust problems and nearly bald tires.

We expect more from TJA leaders and the elected officials at District 47 and District 155. Both school boards should be held accountable for the lack of oversight here.

To regain public trust after these concerning reports, we suggest both school districts publicly identify on their respective websites the members of the TJA advisory board, the meeting schedules, agendas and minutes for the board, and a plan for making sure this kind of thing never happens again.

We expect the same from every McHenry County school district. This time, other districts were not subject to the surprise inspection. But all districts should be prepared for them and ensure buses are safe to transport students.

Reports from surprise IDOT inspections should be posted prominently on public websites and shared – in a timely manner – with both parents and the taxpaying public.

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