State should consider outsourcing bus inspections

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: February 7 2013 | 7:54 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 11:06 am in
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By Sioux City Journal

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All Iowans can agree on the need to make sure school buses are safe.

The question becomes: What is the best, most cost-effective way to accomplish this goal?

The inspection system we have in place today is inadequate. We can and should strive for better.

How can Iowa improve the inspection of buses? We suggest the state consider outsourcing bus inspections to private, certified mechanics across the state.

In a front-page story in the Jan. 27 Journal, staff writer Nate Robson reported about shortcomings with the school bus inspection system currently used by the Iowa Department of Education.

The system is grossly understaffed. Today, one Department of Education inspector is handling inspections of all 7,500 school buses in Iowa — twice per year. Plus, State Rep. Ron Jorgensen, R-Sioux City, told Robson he planned to introduce a bill to expand the school bus inspection requirement under state law to include school district cars and vans, thus adding an estimated 1,300 new vehicles to the workload of the one inspector.

Iowa’s ratio of inspectors to buses, Robson reported, is far lower than the ratio in other states, even when this state is fully staffed with two inspectors.

Lack of resources also leads to a lack of post-inspection callbacks to insure necessary repairs are made, Robson was told. Instead, the state relies on “the honor system,” said Max Christensen, state director of school transportation.

Before hiring more state school transportation inspectors at $90,000 per year (the salaries for these inspectors are paid through fees charged to school districts), plus benefits, plus mileage, we suggest the Legislature consider an entirely new approach.

In recent years, many local and state governments across the country have turned to outside sources for help in providing a range of services at lower cost to taxpayers. Why not inspections of buses?

We have a wealth of private mechanics across Iowa who would be qualified to perform safety inspections of buses. We urge the Legislature to consider opening bus inspections to competitive bids from them.

Our system for inspecting school buses needs improvement. In our view, outsourcing these responsibilities would improve the inspection process by increasing resources, would save money and would support private businesses in our state.

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Is there other feedback and/or ideas you want to share with us? Tell us here.

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