Buses fare better in recent inspection

Sid Shane, Westbrook's new school bus mechanic, helped repair and maintain all of the buses so they could pass a state inspection last month.

WESTBROOK — Westbrook school buses performed much better in a recent surprise inspection by state police than they did last spring when many failed or were overdue on safety checks.

School officials credit the district’s new bus mechanic for getting the vehicles up to safety standards. The mechanic position had been vacant for a year before Sid Shane was hired in July.

The state police motor vehicle inspection unit conducted a surprise compliance check Dec. 27. According to Lt. Bruce Scott, four buses completely passed inspection and others had minor violations, such as expired fire extinguishers. Four buses had to be put out of service for issues such as sticking brakes, brakes that were out of adjustment, and a leaking exhaust. Additionally, three buses wouldn’t start, possibly due to the cold weather, and couldn’t be inspected.

Scott said the issues were not too serious, especially compared to problems found last spring.

“They were much better this time,” he said. “Our inspectors that were down there saw a great improvement.”

In June, six Westbrook school buses were pulled from the road after being found to have expired inspection stickers. Four buses later failed inspection and were permanently taken out of service. Several others needed minor repairs and only one bus fully passed inspection. 

State police conducted the bus inspection last June after receiving calls from residents about expired inspection stickers. This time around all of the buses had up-to-date inspection stickers, but a follow-up had to be done in the same calendar year.

Superintendent Peter Lancia said he’s happy the police did another inspection last month.

“A surprise inspection sounds scary, but I’m really glad it happened,” he said.

Scott said doing checks like this are important and that the state will visit Westbrook again this spring.

“If you do an occasional surprise check it keeps everyone on their toes,” he said.

Scott said the four buses that were put out of service during the most recent inspection had to be fixed before they could go back on the road. If the same problems still exist at the next surprise check, he said the school district will face consequences. 

Lancia said the improvement this time around proves how seriously the school department has taken the issue of school bus safety. The overdue and failed inspections from June were blamed on the lack of a scheduling system and on not having a school bus mechanic.

Shane, who maintained trucks and equipment for the Maine Department of Transportation for 29 years and was a school bus mechanic for SAD 15, worked all summer to repair the fleet of buses before the start of the new school year. 

“Sid comes to us with a wealth of knowledge and experience,” Dean Flanagin, the school department’s director of operations, said. “He worked diligently over those six weeks to get all of the buses repaired and up to inspection.”

According to Flanagin, Westbrook has 24 school buses, including spares. Shane, a Casco resident, now has the buses on a staggered schedule so two are due for inspection every month. Shane said he does routine inspections and preventative work every day. 

Flanagin said the school department is also making transportation safer by increasing the frequency with which it purchases new buses. Two buses were retired this school year because they had high mileage and it was too costly to repair them, and two new buses were purchased.

Lancia said the department wants to get back on a cycle of applying for funds from the Department of Education’s general purpose aid to replace buses. Flanagin said it’s important to routinely purchase new buses because “it keeps us current and up to date.” Lancia added that the average life of a bus is 15-20 years and Westbrook’s oldest bus is 17 years old.

Prior to Shane being hired, Westbrook didn’t have a system in place to remind the department to inspect its buses. In the last several months Shane has created an automated calendar of inspection due dates and has created a file for every bus in the fleet.

“I try to do everything 115 percent, not just 100 percent,” Shane said. “We carry the most precious cargo in the world.”

Lancia said he appreciates the work Shane has done to maintain the buses so they’re safe for children and can pass inspection.

“We’re really proud of our transportation department for turning this around so quickly and putting a new system in place to assure that won’t happen again,” Lancia said.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Sid Shane, Westbrook’s new school bus mechanic, helped repair and maintain all of the buses so they could pass a state inspection last month.