The California Highway Patrol gave the Merced City School District an unsatisfactory rating for its bus maintenance practices, trustees acknowledged this week.
Eleven of the district's 35 buses were placed out of service for mechanical issues following annual inspections July 9-11 by the CHP's Fresno-based Motor Carrier Safety Unit.
The unit inspects fleets from Modesto to Bakersfield.
Superintendent RoseMary Parga Duran and Associate Superintendent Greg Spicer said all of the maintenance issues, which involved brakes, suspension parts and fuel lines, were fixed within a matter of days following the CHP inspections.
Spicer said a new action plan was developed by the five-person bus maintenance team. It will entail one person being responsible for checking all maintenance points and increased communication with other mechanics over possible safety issues.
"They were disappointed and surprised with the results," Spicer said. "We got dinged, which is a little bit humbling. There is no question about their competence; it's not a knowledge factor."
Spicer, associate superintendent for business services, said analysis showed maintenance procedures being performed were fragmented.
Duran said all the buses were up and running when school started. "They corrected all the findings," Duran said. "There's no excuse for that."
Greg Biklian of Fresno, motor carrier specialist III and manager of the CHP's Motor Carrier Safety Unit, said inspectors found fuel leaks, faulty brakes, hoses that needed replacing, tie rod ends that were worn and a cracked frame.
"It was determined (that) the maintenance program had declined since the last time," Biklian said.
If more than 20 percent of an agency's bus fleet is placed out of service, policy requires the CHP to rate the agency as unsatisfactory. The CHP will return within 120 days for another inspection, according to Biklian.
Most of the brake issues could be fixed within a matter of minutes, by the end of the day, Biklian said. He said district maintenance personnel were very cooperative and didn't appeal any of the inspection findings.
'There's no excuses'
Kraig Magnussen, the district's chief operations officer, said all the problems identified by the CHP were fixed right away. He said all the mechanics are competent and know what needs to be done. The bus with the cracked frame was taken to a shop where the suspension crack was repaired.
"We made a lot of changes," Magnussen said. "It's unfortunate. There's no excuses; we can't fail this. Things are running really well and our buses are safe. We will continue to move forward."
Board member Susan Walsh said the district "took its eye off the ball on a couple of issues" and was found wanting.
Spicer said bus personnel are using a white board and spreadsheets to track maintenance issues and more preventive measures have been implemented.
Two ballot measures
On the November ballot measures, the board endorsed both Propositions 30 and 38; Duran said she favors Proposition 30 being pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown. The California School Boards Association has recommended trustees endorse both bond issues.
Duran said the school district may have to develop a worst-case scenario. The proposal to shorten the school year by 20 days just doesn't seem possible, she added.
Board member Gene Stamm said he would be supporting both ballot measures. If one of them doesn't pass, he said the district would face enormous cuts in per-pupil funding.
Walsh said without the funding from the propositions, the district is quite concerned about how to continue providing a quality education.
"I grew up in a household where education was always important," Walsh said. "We believed educating youth was the key to having a decent community, state and nation. It's not a solution to cut four weeks off the school year."
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.