Schools balance bus repairs with tightening budgets

13 Investigates found high rates of school buses out of service in Indiana.
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There is more to know about Indiana's broken school buses and their the troubling safety records.

13 Investigates has found high rates of buses "out of service." In some school communities, 30-, 40-, even 50-percent of buses are ordered out of service because of serious safety violations found during annual state inspections.

In Marion County, Lawrence Township schools had 40 percent of its school buses in need of repair.

We found schools struggling with financial problems as they try to prevent and fix safety problems.

Buses run on money and many schools are receiving a lot less money to operate, repair and replace them. In Franklin Township, school superintendent Dr. Flora Reichanadter didn't mince words.

"I would say it is a crisis because of funding," she said.

Last year, Franklin Township students paid to ride buses. They are free this year, but Reichanadter figures funding will fall more than $1.5 million short of what it costs to run the fleet.

"It is a constant battle to make sure we have safe buses on the road at all times," she conceded.

WEB EXTRA: Click here to view the most recent inspection results for your child's bus

13 Investigates found that statewide, the number of school buses ordered out of service for serious safety violations is up 35 percent from five years ago. Indiana State Trooper Chris Kath is among the inspectors who crawl under, over and through roughly 16,000 school buses looking for problems.

"You couldn't put any better money into something that is transporting our children. We have to keep our children safe," he said.

Property tax caps put in place two years ago to protect homeowners are squeezing school budgets. As a result, local schools have been cutting transportation costs by cutting the number of buses, having fewer bus stops and having more students riding buses for greater distances. They've cut back on field trips and busing students home after athletic team practices and other afternoon activities.

Some districts, like Franklin Township, now have fewer mechanics at a time when the state requires all schools to keep buses running longer - 12 years.

"We have not been able to replace our buses on a regular basis. Therefore, we have aging buses that require a bit more maintenance than in the past, therefore our mechanics are working twice as hard," Reichanadter explained.

Franklin Township fared better than many schools. Only 16 percent of its buses were put out of service until repairs were made.