Editorial: Are the wheels on the bus coming off?

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If you’re the parent of a student who rides public school buses in greater Portland and you haven’t given a second thought to who is driving your child to and from school, an investigation by Randy Billings in The Forecaster this week should give you plenty to think about.

Billings found that not only do some drivers hired by area school districts have less-than-stellar personal driving histories – including convictions for operating under the influence and driving with suspended licenses – but that school officials responsible for hiring and supervising bus drivers sometimes either ignore the drivers’ records or fail to regularly review them. In Cape Elizabeth, they don’t even keep the records on hand, let alone available for inspection.

The work by Billings reveals that the majority of school bus drivers are safe, conscientious, and well-qualified. But in too many school districts, a significant minority of drivers have personal driving histories that cast doubt on whether they are qualified to transport busloads of children.

Parents have a right to expect that school officials will do a better job of vetting and regularly reviewing the bus drivers. And legislators should consider revising state law, which is essentially silent on the subject of drivers’ records after the state provides initial certification.

In our opinion, school officials should be required to review bus drivers’ records annually and to make those records available for public inspection. It shouldn’t take a request under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act to get the information. And it shouldn’t take a school bus accident to convince people that change is needed at both the legislative level and where the rubber meets the road.