Overdue inspection finds issues with buses

Four school buses have been put out of service in Westbrook after failing a state police inspection.

WESTBROOK — Four school buses have been pulled from the road after they failed a state police inspection last week.

The school department’s buses were inspected last week after police were notified that many were past due. According to Sgt. Randall Keaten of the state police motor vehicle inspection unit, several more buses have yet to be inspected.

State police contacted the school department June 5 after receiving calls from residents about expired inspection stickers. Six buses were pulled from the road and the district borrowed buses from other districts to transport students. According to Superintendent Peter Lancia, these borrowed buses are still being used in Westbrook.

Keaton said 13 buses were inspected last week and of those, four were put out of service indefinitely. Eight had “minor defects” that have been repaired or are in the process of being repaired, and only one bus fully passed inspection. He said seven other buses that were “serviced off site” still need to be inspected by the state police.

Lancia said he hopes the buses can be inspected and repaired sooner rather than later.

“Obviously we want to get those buses in shape and back on the road as soon as possible,” he said.

According to the official school bus inspection reports, many of the defects in the buses were related to the brakes. Other issues related to suspension, emergency exits, body components and exhaust systems. 

School bus inspection stickers are valid for six months and it is the responsibility of the transportation department to have them inspected. According to Lancia, six buses had expired inspection stickers.

Last week the department’s former school bus mechanic, Tom Goughnour, said the transportation department knew some buses were past due for inspection. 

Lancia said that claim, along with claims that bus drivers were told to continue driving buses that needed be inspected, are being investigated by the school district’s human resources department. He said people within the transportation department are being interviewed and that he hopes to have the results of the investigation soon.

“I hope it is as quick as it can be so I can take the steps I need to,” he said.

Joan Harmon, the transportation coordinator, declined to speak with the American Journal earlier this week.

“I think the superintendent would prefer you talk to him,” she said.

Lancia said school bus drivers do basic inspections of their buses every morning, but aren’t qualified to do mechanical inspections. Goughnour said he had to do some sort of mechanical work on buses most days and that buses need to be checked regularly.

Goughnour retired last August and a new bus mechanic has not been hired, leaving the district with no mechanic at all. Lancia said the district received no applications for the job, but that the posting is still active.

According to Lancia, the salary typically allocated for the position has been spent on repairing buses, although he didn’t know exactly how much has been spent. 

“There’s been a savings and that’s been spent at repair centers,” he said.

Last week Lancia said he had received many calls from concerned parents and that since then he has received many more. He said parents are worried about the safety of the buses.

“There’s concern as to how this could happen,” Lancia said. “As a parent I’d be upset as well.” 

Lancia said the school departments expects to have its buses back on the road by the end of the month.

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

Four school buses have been put out of service in Westbrook after failing a state police inspection.