FAIRBANKS -- The company responsible for busing children to school in Fairbanks had a lax approach to safety before employees came forward with complaints, according to a review done on behalf of the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District.
The district has a contract with Cincinnati-based First Student to provide bus service. School district superintendent Pete Lewis ordered the review two months ago, shortly after First Student workers approached the School Board with complaints about unsafe conditions.
The review was performed by Bob Koslick, a former Alaska State Trooper. His report concludes the buses are safe, but the company's local officials had a "do what is minimally necessary" attitude before recent improvements.
The report obtained by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner found that First Student struggled to keep qualified mechanics to prevent a backlog of problems with the fleet. Staff concerns, it added, were treated with a "Band-Aid approach" or ignored.
Moreover, the document states that pre-trip inspections were often incomplete, and drivers failed to alert mechanics about problems until late in the week, to keep buses on the road.
The report also noted school buses are poorly insulated and often "very cold" in the winter.
A First Student spokesman did not respond to the newspaper's request for comment. The report takes issue with previous First Student leadership in Fairbanks, saying it lacked guidance and corporate oversight "at multiple levels."
Koslick noted that the problems only received the necessary attention after employees came forward at a March School Board meeting.
"In fairness to First Student, every effort is being made to correct the safety and maintenance issues that are the subject of this review," he wrote. But, he added, it was "unfortunate and reprehensible" that it took public complaints to trigger corrective action.
Lewis said the district plans to do quarterly follow-up visits to ensure safe conditions.
"It's important to us, bottom line, that the kids riding the bus are safe and the drivers are safe," Lewis said.