Last week, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale warned school officials to be extra vigilant when hiring bus drivers after discovering drivers with missing paperwork and criminal convictions in 28 counties across the state, including Clearfield.
Since 2013, auditors found 58 school districts were missing driver documentation or had drivers with one or missing certifications or background checks.
In addition, he said 10 drivers should have been banned from transporting students because of criminal convictions.
“Protecting the safety of students must be a priority for every single school in the state,” DePasquale said. “It is outrageous that my team found bus drivers with criminal records that — by law — should have precluded them from driving students.”
Local education agencies are required by the Public School Code to have proper documentation on all bus drivers. Proper documentation includes a valid driver’s license with S-endorsement for operation of a school bus, annual physical examination, criminal background check, federal criminal history record, PA child abuse clearance, and arrest/conviction report and certification form PDE 6004.
Of the more than 1,300 bus driver records reviewed, auditors found 724 deficiencies. A deficiency is a driver failing to have one or more of the proper documents required.
DePasquale reaffirmed it is the responsibility of the schools to assure all drivers have the appropriate qualifications and background check to interact with students. School officials are responsible to maintain the proper driver documentation within their school files.
“School administrators: these are your students,” DePasquale remarked. “You are responsible for their safety.”
There were two school districts in Clearfield County named in the report — West Branch and Philipsburg-Osceola.
In the West Branch School District, the bus driver audit began in July 2010 and continued through June 2012. During the two-year period, five drivers were reviewed and three deficiencies were discovered. None of the drivers, however, were found to be ineligible.
West Branch Superintendent Michelle Dutrow was not in her current position when the audit was performed, but said she was made aware of the audit in the transition into her role in 2013. Dutrow said she was aware of the specific documentation the bus drivers lacked, but did not disclose that information.
Dutrow said she found the AG’s report to be valid and an important process that allows the state to assess school district’s compliance with a multitude of requirements. She added that school districts are audited in a number of different areas and it is not uncommon for there to be findings that require corrective action.
“Audits do not exist as a ‘gotcha’ measure, but rather serve to assist school districts to function in an improvement environment,” Dutrow added. “From a school district perspective, audit findings are helpful for fine-tuning our procedures and serve as a periodic benchmark to assess our internal operation.”
In the Philipsburg-Osceola School District, the audit was performed from July 2012 to June 2014. Fifteen bus drivers were reviewed and 15 deficiencies were found. Again, the drivers were not found to be ineligible — meaning there were no criminal records.
Philipsburg-Osceola Superintendent Gregg Paladina did not immediately return a request for comment.
Both West Branch and Philipsburg-Osceola School Districts use the Long Motor Bus Co. of Philipsburg to transport students. Philipsburg-Osceola also uses Fullington.
Dutrow noted assuring proper documentation of bus drivers is a joint effort on behalf of both a school district and a bus contractor in instances, such as these, where transportation services are outsourced.
At Long Motor Buses, Andrea Wesesky works as a liaison between the company and the school district. She said drivers are monitored and verified to have proper clearances before the start of a new school year. This process begins the moment a driver starts at the company.
“Whenever we have a person apply, all of their qualifications are listed electronically,” Wesesky added.
In the case of West Branch, the audit findings were released to them during the 2014-15 school year. After a review of the district’s internal procedure and a consultation with the bus company, Dutrow said a more formalized tracking system was implemented and regular communication between the two agencies was established.
Wesesky said she regularly reviews a database which lists all the proper documentation of each driver and when it is due to expire. This information is shared with the driver and with the school district as part of the established lines of communication between the two entities.
According to the Auditor General’s office, a subsequent audit has not yet been conducted on either school district to verify corrective action was taken.
“I am pleased to report in most — but not in all cases — where we conducted a subsequent audit, the school districts have moved to correct problems,” DePasquale said. “I will follow up in future audits to ensure that nothing has fallen through the cracks.”