Get on the ball with buses

City schools: No excuses should force Baltimore children to ride in unsafe vehicles.

February 26, 2002

CITY SCHOOL officials are quick to blame state legislators, the governor and anyone else they can finger when city kids get shorted on money and other resources.

But those same officials need only look in the mirror to see who's shorting city kids on bus safety.

Most jurisdictions hold private school bus companies to the highest possible maintenance standards and dismiss the ones that don't make the grade.

Not so in Baltimore City. State vehicle inspection reports, reviewed by Sun reporters Michael James and Andrew A. Green, show that a quarter of the buses operated by the city's 20 private contractors flunked state inspections over the past three years.

City school officials' response? We're upping the maintenance standards, but we have to give the companies time to meet them. Plus, the state is probably too hard on city bus operators.

That kind of excuse-making won't do.

This responsibility is about as fundamental as it gets for city school officials - to ensure that the children they look after for six hours a day do not come into harm's way.

True, many of the problems that are found with buses are minor, but it seems just as many are not. And why should any maintenance issues be tolerated, given the obvious risk to children? Just one incident in which a rickety school bus causes or contributes to the harm of a child would be tragic. The liability issues for the school system would be overwhelming.

The problem here seems to be with city officials' low expectations. They're more concerned with the companies fixing problems once they're flagged at inspection than with preventive maintenance that would avoid the lapses in the first place.

That focus is backward. And if changing it requires alterations in bus contracts, so be it.

The current situation is a disaster waiting to happen - and if it does, school officials will shoulder a hefty share of the blame.

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