Failing Grade for Berrien County Buses

By: Kari Huston
By: Kari Huston

The safety of students shouldn't take a back seat to saving a school district money.

That certainly wasn't the intention of the Berrien County Intermediate School District when they contracted a bus company called Laidlaw to transport students starting in the 2005 school year.

But when one third of the buses Laidlaw uses in Berrien County didn't pass a state safety inspection, the district began to wonder what was going on.

“When we had information that there were a number of buses that were red tagged we went to see what the report was on the Michigan State website as well as contacting Laidlaw,” Superintendent Jeffrey Siegel recalls.

Laidlaw transports about 200 students to and from the Blossomland Learning Center for disabled children.

When Michigan State Police did inspections on those buses last October, eight problems were red-tagged.

Red-tagged buses are considered not fit for transportation because at least one problem with that bus could lead to a breakdown.

Two buses received yellow tags, meaning they needed improvements.

“There were some clamps that weren't tight. There was a car seat that wasn't tied down. Those problems also generate red tags,” Siegel explains, “but all the things that were red-tagged were fixed the same day, most of them within 15 minutes. So, in my opinion the safety of the students was not impacted.”

A red tag rating can range from a problem as serious as bad steering, to as simple as a clamp that needs tightening.

Superintendent Siegel says Laidlaw has a nationwide reputation of being safe.

“Laidlaw is bringing in some seasoned or more experienced shop managers from other areas of Michigan where we have received 100% pass rates and this is to help guide our shop managers in Berrien Springs on these inspections and what to look for,” says Tiffini Bloniarz, a spokeswoman for Laidlaw.

Berrien County expects the next round of bus inspections this fall and instead of red tags they're hoping for the checkered flag or at least a thumbs up.

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