State

Modesto school bus facility passes spring exams

Modesto City Schools is doing a better job maintaining its buses after the California Highway Patrol gave its bus maintenance operations a failing grade.

The CHP inspected 31 buses over spring break and took only one bus out of service because it had an exhaust leak.

That comes on the heels of an inspection over winter break in which the CHP took six of the 29 buses it inspected out of service because of mechanical problems.

Those results prompted a surprise inspection in March, in which the CHP took four of the 14 buses it inspected out of service and gave Modesto City Schools' bus maintenance operations an unsatisfactory rating, a rare occurrence for San Joaquin Valley school districts.

"This is definitely an improvement," said Gary Boswell, a motor carrier specialist with the CHP's Modesto office, about the latest inspection results. "They have implemented some changes and taken the bulls by the horn."

The buses were taken out of service for such violations as brakes being out of adjustment, cracked fan belts, air loss in brake chambers, underinflated tires and loose or missing mounting bolts.

Modesto City Schools has fixed the problems, and CHP officials emphasized that none of the mechanical problems they found posed an imminent danger to students.

Boswell found 51 violations during his winter break inspection compared with 13 during his spring break inspection. The majority of the violations, such as a defective window latch and a power steering reservoir low on fluid, were not serious enough to take a bus out of service.

The school district has worked with the CHP to correct its maintenance deficiencies. It has sent its mechanics to free CHP training, reviewed its operations and brought in a maintenance supervisor from another school district to provide additional feedback.

"We are very pleased with the performance of our mechanics and our inspection results," said Miguel Galvez, the school district's director of facilities development and support. "We are concerned about keeping our students and the community safe."

Another surprise inspection coming

Modesto still has an unsatisfactory rating for its maintenance operations. Boswell will make a surprise reinspection in the next couple of months.

He said he expects Modesto to earn a satisfactory grade based on the steps it's taken.

An unsatisfactory rating is a rare mark for the 215 private and public school bus maintenance operations the CHP's Central Division inspects each year in the San Joaquin Valley.

Last year, no more than six of the 215 bus operations received an unsatisfactory rating. Modesto received satisfactory ratings from 1995 to 2009 except for 2006, when the district received an unsatisfactory rating for not doing an annual review of the driving history of one bus driver.

Modesto City Schools officials could not explain last month why bus maintenance operations had received a poor mark, adding that the transportation budget has not been cut and bus maintenance has had essentially the same staff for the past few years.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or 578-2316.

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