Friday, January 19, 2018
Education

Ruth: School lemons leave a sour and alarming taste

As Hardy once said to Laurel, "Here's another fine mess you've gotten us into."

If you are a parent of a Hillsborough County student, chances are you send the little munchkin off to classes each day aboard a yellow bus without all that much thought the vehicle is quite possibly in worse shape than the Joad family jalopy.

While recent news events ought to give every parent pause that an act of violence might occur on school grounds, the odds of something untoward happening remain very, very, very slim.

That your little rug rat might be riding on a piece of machinery that was maintained out of something closer to Mad Max meets a demolition derby is an entirely different matter.

According to Richard Bethune, Hillsborough school buses are so poorly serviced that some of them barely make it down the road from the shop before breaking down again.

Bethune ought to know. Until he recently quit in frustration, he supervised workers who repair (or not) the school buses.

Indeed, Bethune would rather grow blueberries than deal with the school system's lemons.

The list of particulars is both damning and alarming. Bethune noted that the buses are sometimes serviced by inept, untrained and sloppy mechanics. Indeed, the former employee noted that the repair shop can be a dumping ground for incompetent school employees from other departments. Put another way, your kid could be riding on a bus that was last "serviced" by Gomer Pyle. But wait: It gets more bizarre.

Bethune says parents are blithely putting little Muffin on a school bus every day that might well have been worked on by a mechanic who has been accused of making death threats to supervisors and co-workers.

This is just great. This is just swell. Children are boarding school buses that could have been serviced by an extra from Reservoir Dogs. How comforting.

For his part, schools spokesman Stephen Hegarty noted: "If any of our employees are not getting the job done or are cutting corners, we need to know about it and we will get to the bottom of it and correct it." Now there's some darn fine flacking for you.

In addition, Hegarty said the school system had leaped into action by launching an investigation.

These concerns about the safety of what has become the 59th-oldest school bus fleet in the state have been around for years. And still the little dickenses are being schlepped around on the equivalent of a Yugo, serviced and maintained by a less-than-motivated workforce that could include at least one employee with issues.

Here's an investigation for Hegarty. Bethune brought his concerns forward quite some time ago, and no one in superintendent MaryEllen Elia's office paid him much attention. Why?

Of course this is the same superintendent who claims she didn't need to be consulted about a special-needs student who died after a medical emergency on a school bus — for nine months after the child died. Why then would Elia muddy her busy schedule to get up to speed about a school bus system from Bangladesh?

Not to worry, though. Elia is working on an action plan based on a consultant's report and focus groups.

What? You need consultants and focus groups to tell you your school buses are dangerous? Elia could save some time by spending a day riding her own clunkers. If she cared to.

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