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School district to require bus documentation

Complaint reports, route summaries had been handled without paper trail

Posted: Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Juneau School District plans to resume requiring written reports of school bus-related complaints and route logs from its bus contractor, First Student, after an Empire inquiry revealed contractual obligations weren't being followed.

"We've already made that determination that there needs to be some documentation so that when questions arise, there will be a source," district spokeswoman Kristin Bartlett said Monday of the district's top officials.

In contrast, Bartlett said last week that the district had decided not to require the reports because of the dearth of complaints.

"The company and district agreed the best and most efficient way was to do these (reports) verbally" and immediately respond to individual complaints as they arose, she said Friday.

Following Sunday's story about the bookkeeping failure, which detailed the one complaint the district and bus company did have on record, a handful of other parents contacted the Empire to recount their own school bus-related complaints. Their reports have not been independently verified, but the nature of at least one claim is similar to a Feb. 18 incident in which a substitute bus driver dropped off 9-year-old Molli Mattice at the wrong stop on her first day on the route. She was lost and crying, and a stranger eventually picked her up and helped her get home.

When asked Monday for an explanation of why other incidents and complaints weren't on record, Bartlett said she had "absolutely none" and will be investigating why.

"It's distressing to hear that's not the only incident," Bartlett said.

David Means, the school district's director of administrative services, said he and local bus manager Kevin Hanson handled reports on the phone, but that documentation was limited to "some e-mails."

The bus contractor transports more than 1,300 riders a day on 36 routes. This school year is the first of five under a contract worth about $2.7 million annually.

Juneau School Board member JoAnne Bell-Graves said she was surprised to learn records weren't being kept.

"Transparency and all that good stuff - we're not supposed to be having any smudges on our records, you know?" she said. "We can't have a school district that doesn't have any transparency. ... We have to set an example. We have to follow the rules."

Bell-Graves was one of two people on the seven-member board that could be reached for comment Monday. The other member, Destiny Sargeant, had yet to read the article, but said the board would take action to address the situation if necessary.

The Juneau School Board has a regular meeting scheduled for 6:15 p.m. today at Juneau-Douglas High School.

• Contact reporter Jeremy Hsieh at 523-2258 or e-mail jeremy.hsieh@juneauempire.com.



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