WEBSTER COUNTY, Ky. (4/3/13) - A very minor bus accident last week raises some serious questions about current Webster County School District policies. For some time now, in order to cut district expenses, the district has required clubs, organizations and sports teams to pay their own traveling expenses, which has led many of these organizations to employee the services of MHVS LLC, a charter bus company in Mortons Gap.
“Their prices were always cheaper than either district buses or the other charter companies,” said Webster County High School Principal Tim Roy.
Following an accident on Wednesday March 27, MHVS buses will no longer be available to Webster County School District’s clubs and organizations.
“We’ve been given a directive to cease all use of Hamilton (MHVS) bus company unless we hear otherwise from the Superintendant,” said Tim Roy. “Our options will be limited now.”
The accident in question happened in Owensboro, where a bus transporting Clay Elementary students struck a metal pole while attempting to turn from East Veterans Boulevard onto Daviess Street. The accident was minor, with no injuries, but during the investigation Owensboro Police Officers discovered that Jerry Lee, the charter bus driver, was not licensed to drive a bus.
“There have been no charges filed, but the driver was given two citations,” said Officer Michael Hamilton, OPD’s information officer. “One was for Driving a Commercial Vehicle without a Commercial Vehicle Class Endorsement, and the other was for Driving a Commercial Vehicle Without a Commercial Vehicle License (CDL).”
Not only was Jerry Lee not licensed to drive a commercial passenger vehicle, he wasn’t licensed to drive a commercial vehicle at all. And he was transporting a group of students from Clay.
“We were fortunate that apart from hitting a pole, nothing else happened,” said Webster County Superintendant Dr. James Kemp. “I immediately prohibited any further use of Mike Hamilton’s bus service. This was their one strike. Other bus services, however, may still be used at this time.”
With spring sports just starting to get underway, this could possibly cause a hardship for sports teams.
In a letter to the editor in the fall of 2012, Superintendant James Kemp explained the district’s policy on transportation.
“Webster County’s student transportation procedures are not unique, but instead very similar to those of other districts,” he wrote. “School activities are planned and supported at the school level. Further, the District School Board has always assisted school groups by limiting the costs when school vehicles are used. Each principal and activity sponsor may choose to use district vehicles or contract vehicles. The choice is theirs and their decisions are based on a number of factors that include availability of district vehicles, conflicts with established school schedules, convenience, costs, vehicle capacity, and the availability of equipment storage areas.”
Officials at the Henderson County School District confirmed that this was similar to the policy they had in place.
“Each school gets education and instructive field trip money,” said Henderson’s Assistant Superintendant Morgana Stanley. “Once the money gets to the schools they decide how it is divided up.”
What the funds given by the district do not cover falls to the booster clubs and parents. Hopkins County School District officials confirmed a similar program at their schools.
An online check of charter bus rates in Western Kentucky on BusRates.com showed a range of $3.10 per mile to $3.50 per mile. According to a source, in September MHVS’ rates were $1.65 for a chartered school bus, and an additional ten to fifteen cents per mile for a chartered coach. The cost of using a county owned bus was $1.36 per mile, but the board paid 30 cents of that, bringing the total down to $1.06 per mile.
“According to state law a school bus can only carry 45 students,” said Diane Moore , Webster County bus dispatcher. “I think a lot of groups look at that when they get a bus, because that limit doesn’t apply to chartered buses.”
“A lot of the time trips conflict with our normal bus routes as well,” Dr. Kemp said. “It’s been a big logistical problem for the district.”
The wreck also raised another safety concern for parents. Webster County School District’s policy required background checks before anyone can work for the school. Yet since the charter bus drivers do not work directly for the school, there is no such policy in place.
“Parents have to have a background check just to sell hotdogs after school,” one concerned parent said. “But the bus driver, who is in charge of our kid’s lives, doesn’t have to have one.”
According to law, sex offenders are eligible to hold a CDL, but they may not possess “passenger” or “school bus” endorsements. Although bus driver Jerry Lee was not a sex offender, parents are concerned that if one driver without proper paperwork could get through, so could another.
“All of that is part of the requirements each carter service must meet through the contract they have with Webster County,” said Dr. Kemp.
Dr. Kemp said he briefly spoke with Board chairman Jeff Pettit, and at the April 8, 2013 board meeting they want to open discussions on encouraging athletic team and organizations to try using school owned busses whenever possible.
MHVS LLC could not be reached for comment.
J-E News Editor
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