Bus safety issues seem to have sparked a debate among Richmond County school officials, the school department's transportation director and bus drivers.
At Thursday night's meeting of the Richmond County Board of Education, Michael Shinn, the school department's director of transportation, presenteda list of initiatives he and other transportation officials have implemented or will implement to ensure the safety of every child that rides a school bus.
Mr. Shinn said his department exceeds the state's minimum requirements for new driver training, provides a training program for children riding buses, uses outside experts to enhance training, and has been phasing out older buses with new "no nose" buses.
"School bus transportation is among the safest means of transportation available," Mr. Shinn told school officials.
But some bus drivers, including 27-year veteran Ronnie Reddy, say there is plenty of room for improvement on the buses.
Mr. Reddy said the flat-face mirrors found on the older school buses need to be replaced with the fisheye mirrors found on new buses. He said the school buses need sensors to alert drivers when students are four feet or closer to the front or rear of the bus. He also said bus driver pay needs to be increased significantly.
"We are asked to act professional and to do our duties in a professional manner, but the bus driver pay does not reflect the requirements," Mr. Reddy said.
Mr. Reddy said he makes $12.51 an hour.
"If a bus driver is not paid adequately, he or she might not perform their duties correctly or with a good attitude," he said.
Some school board members, including Barbara Padgett and Helen Minchew, say they are sure Mr. Shinn and the drivers are doing a good job with bus safety.
However, they still say it doesn't hurt to re-examine policies and see if improvements and new procedures can provide additional protection against tragedies like the death of a Columbia County kindergartener who was run over and killed by a bus last month.
"We should always be about improvements," said Richmond County Superintendent of Schools Charles Larke. "If it saves a life, it's worth it."
Reach, Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.