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Board asks for $385,000 for school bus safety

Managing Editor
Staff Writer

Citing safety concerns with some school buses at North Harrison, Lanesville and South Harrison, the Harrison County Board of Commissioners Monday night OK’d asking for $385,000 in riverboat education funds to replace seven buses that have had welding repairs made to them and called upon the school administrators to determine how many buses owned by contract drivers need to be replaced.
Commissioner James Goldman, formerly a school board member at North Harrison, cut to the chase after a somewhat lengthy debate on the issue.
‘We’re sitting here with $5 million in the education fund, and we’re arguing over our children’s lives?’ he said, moving to ask the council to allot the funds.
‘If you’re willing to risk our children’s lives, then don’t second the motion,’ he challenged his colleagues on the board, J.R Eckart and Jim Heitkemper.
Heitkemper seconded the motion, loud and clear, and that’s all it took on the three-member board. As the chair, Eckart did not have to vote because there was no tie.
Eckart noted that if the funds are approved by the council, the result will also be a property tax savings because the expenditure won’t have to be added to tax bills.
Eckart said he had hoped to table the issue to deal with the schools’ needs to replace corporate-owned buses and those owned by contract drivers.
North Harrison Community School Supt. Monty Schneider earlier had told the commissioners that the buses were being rewelded as a safety precaution following a bus rollover in Florida in April. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a statement that the bus, built by Carpenter Manufacturing, had either a cracked or broken roof structure.
The NHTSA said in a statement that not all Carpenter buses have broken or cracked welds; the problem is confined to all types of school buses built at the Carpenter plant in Mitchell from 1986 until the plant’s closing in 1995.
Because Carpenter is no longer in business, the NHTSA cannot conduct a full-scale safety defect investigation with a probable safety recall to repair the affected buses for free. Instead, the NHTSA made the following recommendations:
First, take affected buses out of service and replace as soon as possible.
If that is not possible, the NHTSA said cracked or broken welds should be repaired as soon as possible by qualified service personnel.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also recommended that these buses should only be used on routes ‘that operate in low-speed environments’ to minimize the risk of rollover.
Schneider and North’s assistant superintendent Ed Pitman had told their board of trustees during a meeting last Wednesday that the school corporation’s 10 buses had been rewelded and are ‘safe.’
‘Every one of them needed welding,’ Schneider said. ‘We need to do this to protect ourselves.’
Nye Welding in Corydon made the necessary repairs, at about $500 per bus, Pitman said.
North also has ordered four new buses to replace some of those 10 under a safety clause. The buses that were repaired will only be used as back-up buses. The new buses are taking longer to arrive, from a plant in Georgia, due to the demand of school corporations replacing their buses.
Pitman said the school corporation has five private contractors with affected buses.
‘We recommended strongly to them that they do the same thing’ as the school corporation did with its buses, he said.
Pitman reminded the school trustees, as well as the parents and the students at the meeting, that riding the school bus is still the safest mode of transportation for getting to and from school.
Dr. Phil Partenheimer, superintendent at Lanesville, said Monday that he has one affected corporation bus, which is used for extracurricular activities, but some of the school corporation’s contract drivers have buses built between 1986 and 1995.
‘I have talked to the drivers we contract who own Carpenter buses,’ he said. ‘They are in the process of checking the welds to make sure they are safe.’

The Indiana State Police inspects buses annually. Partenheimer said all of the buses used by Lanesville passed inspection prior to last week’s start of school.
While he wants to make sure the weldings on the buses are safe, Partenheimer said, ‘If we have a rollover, you’re going to have children who are hurt whether they’re on a Carpenter bus or a Ford bus.
‘We still want to be as safe as possible,’ he said.
Sam Day, director of transportation for the South Harrison Community School Corp., said South Harrison just rotated its last Carpenter from its 20-bus fleet.
‘We have no more Carpenter buses left,’ he said Monday.
The corporation does have some contract drivers with affected buses, Day said, and he is following up on the recommendation that they either replace their buses or have the necessary welding repairs made.
‘We’ll do anything the state and federal people want us to do to make sure our buses our safe,’ Day said.
At the commissioners’ meeting Monday, Schneider said, ‘Because this is an emergency, we could get the buses without going through the bidding process.’
The corporation could use part of the $800,000 in riverboat revenue received this year, Schneider said, but, ‘It would take away from things we wanted for our children.’
Councilman Gary Davis, who was in the audience listening intently, said the Jefferson County, Ky., schools have the same problem with some buses, and those had been rewelded and put in service.
The council will hear the request for the money for school replacements at its Sept. 8 meeting.