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Some drove school bus after limit
Hillsborough's policy is to get rid of bus drivers with three avoidable accidents.
By LETITIA STEIN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 7, 2007
[Skip O'Rourke | Times]
Tuesday's crash by Eugenie Shuler was her sixth accident since 2002 while driving a school bus.
TAMPA - In recent years, Hillsborough school bus drivers have been involved in at least 463 accidents that district officials say could have been avoided.
Sixty-four of the more than 375 drivers involved have racked up two accidents.
Another eight had three, which should result in their reassignment or termination because that's the limit. But three of the drivers were allowed a fourth offense.
The lag time between the accident and the meetings of a review panel to determine whether the accident was preventable is the reason for the four-time offenders, school officials say.
None of them still drives buses. But one three-time offenders "fell through the cracks" and continued to drive a bus until the St. Petersburg Times began asking questions, spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said. As of today, that three-time offender no longer will be driving a school bus.
Cobbe insists safety is not being compromised.
"If there is anyone who is not on that list who has had a ticket or who has had an accident, they are being monitored," she said. "We're not going to compromise student safety for due process."
The district's "watch-list" of drivers covers school bus accidents that occurred between the start of the 2004-05 school year and early last spring. Before drivers are added to the list, they have two opportunities to appear before the review panel - for an initial ruling, then for a subsequent appeal.
Notably missing from the list: Eugenie Shuler, a driver who resigned Wednesday after being cited with careless driving and failure to wear a seat belt in a school bus crash that sent 11 students to area hospitals this week with minor injuries.
The crash was her sixth accident since 2002 while driving a school bus.
School officials could not initially provide the details of her accidents. A complete listing had to come from law enforcement.
Now the district is looking at making changes as part of a broader overhaul of a long troubled transportation division.
"I believe that our new transportation manager, as part of his revamping of the department, is going to look at the record-keeping and automation of record-keeping - anything that can make the department more efficient," Cobbe said.
Under district policies, drivers involved in two accidents within two years that could have been avoided can be suspended for up to three days and sent for training. The driver would be terminated or reassigned after the third accident in two years.
Hillsborough also won't let anyone drive a school bus who has 13 points against their driver's license. School officials receive weekly reports from the state noting any accidents or citations affecting the driving records of school bus drivers.
In Pinellas, school bus drivers were involved in 374 on-the-job accidents last school year. The district determined that 240 of them were preventable, said schools spokeswoman Andrea Zahn. The number of drivers who were involved in multiple accidents was not readily available. Pinellas schools employed about 800 drivers during the 2006-07 school year.
Pasco transportation director Mike Park said the district does not have a database tracking driver accidents. The department maintains files on each driver, and checks their driving record weekly.
Times staff writers Donna Winchester and Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report. Letitia Stein can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3400. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.