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Checks show school bus drivers' past crimes

A background check showing 11 percent of school bus drivers in two South Florida counties have criminal records _ including two convicted of murder _ sparked a call Tuesday for a statewide investigation from Attorney General Bob Butterworth. "I don't want the numbers to alarm anyone, but our concern is that we want to make sure the people who have close contact with our schoolchildren are fit," Butterworth said.

The check by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) of the backgrounds of 2,174 bus drivers in Dade and Broward counties showed that 230 had arrest records, including 95 felonies.

The two drivers convicted of murder work in Dade. Other felonies committed by bus drivers in both counties were aggravated assault, assault on a police officer, grand theft and robbery.

None of the drivers had been convicted of child abuse or kidnapping, Butterworth said. Six were arrested on sex charges and 50 on drug charges.

Under a state law that took effect Jan. 1, all new bus drivers and other non-instructional school employees must be fingerprinted for nationwide criminal checks.

Tampa Bay area school districts have started the fingerprint checks for new employees, though most already had been conducting local criminal background searches on all potential employees and driving record searches on bus drivers.

Applicants convicted of a moral turpitude crime were not hired.

Local personnel administrators said they expect the fingerprint search to turn up information they had no way of knowing before.

"This is a more extensive check," said Ron Tindle, director of non-instructional personnel for Hillsborough County. "Our local check wouldn't have turned up something in a county four of five counties south."

Locally, only Pinellas and Hillsborough have gotten any fingerprint reports back. Pinellas' four reports contained no information the school system was not already aware of.

Hillsborough hasn't had a chance to review its stack of reports, but Tindle said he saw that they contained some information on several types of arrests, especially those that are drug-related.

_ Times staff writer Wilma Norton contributed to this report.