CINDY WARD PHOTOS
Hannah Reynolds, 5, prepares to get on the school bus for her first day of kindergarten Reynolds is the daughter of Kayla and Ron Reynolds, Napoleon. In the upper photo, Deanna Steelman and her twin sons, Ben and Caleb, hurry to get to their first day of first grade at Jac-Cen-Del. Students were greeted by newly retired second grade teachers, Marsha Bultman and Sue Bunselmeier. Bultman and Bunselmeier started at Osgood Elementary together in 1971.
Considered safest way to transport school kids
School buses have started rolling for the 2013-14 school year in Ripley County. All of the 100 or more buses used to transport some 3500+ kids in the county to Batesville, Jac-Cen-Del, Milan and South Ripley schools have been inspected by state police for safety. Inspections are a state law. The inspector is looking for three main things: tires, brakes and lights. State Trooper Chris Clark with the commercial vehicle division, said they make note of anything from how long the exhaust pipe sticks out to the bumper density and inside lighting. He began in January inspecting the 700 buses in his district.
South Ripley, for example, has 29 buses, and had a 93 percent approval rating. Batesville has 37 buses, 36 inspected and 72 percent approved. Milan has 23 buses and 78 percent were approved. Jac-Cen-Del has 19 buses, 89 percent were approved. Any slight infraction is noted, and has been repaired, sometimes on site before the inspector leaves. The full report is available to the public on line at in.gov/ISP/BusInspections/Public/Index.
School transportation directors oversee the bus operations and routes. It’s a big job considering what they are transporting. As Bill Bruns, transportation director with South Ripley School Corporation, tells his bus drivers these are not packages like UPS delivers, but “precious cargo,” their children. “I’m very confident all the transportation directors in Ripley County treat it like they are putting their own kids on the bus. Actually, we look at it that these are our kids,” he said. South Ripley has 24 bus routes, traveling over 5,000 miles a week to get the kids to school.
Transportation directors and bus drivers are also a bit anxious on the first few days of the school year. Dr. Tom Reale, assistant superintendent with Milan Schools, transports 670 kids daily on 14 routes. He said “We like to be ready, but you really don’t know until that first day how many kids you’re taking, or if the bus is the right size. Then, if the driver says I had 60 kids, and another says I had 30, we’ll need to adjust.” Milan likes to average 48 students on the buses, The buses often accommodate 72 passengers, but that is three to a seat, and too crowded in most cases, Reale says.
There are no new routes for South Ripley this year, but Bruns noted that SR 62 is now open and that changes a few things for pick-up, but nothing major.
Pam Comer, who is in her 15th year as the corporation’s director, said they were ready to go Thursday, JCD started school the earliest in the county. South Ripley and Milan started Monday, and Batesville, will on Wednesday.
JCD hauled over 700 kids on 14 routes, covering 700 miles round-trip daily. Comer said the first morning went smoothly, kids got on and off at the right time, and place.
“It is absolutely the safest way to transport your kids,” she recently told parents of kindergarteners at orientation. She added that in the US, 480,000 school districts transport 26 million children daily, and it’s rare to have an accident. “But bus accidents are like airplane crashes. They are so rare, and it involves children, that you hear about it,” she said. Reale referenced a statistic that the odds of an accident occurring with a parent transporting a child to school is 10 to 15 times more likely than a school bus.
On July 27 a church bus in Indianapolis returning from a mission trip crashed, killing three people and injuring two dozen others. The cause has been linked to malfunctioning brakes. The most infamous crash in this region was in Carrollton Kentucky, Comer recalled, and how passengers couldn’t get out of the bus due to coolers in the aisle blocking exits. That’s why bus drivers have strict rules.
Comer believes strongly the yellow buses are safe, despite no seat belts. Indiana does not require seat belts. She said it is an expensive option, adding another $20,000 to an already $80,000 new bus price-tag. “And we have no data to prove it is safer, although they do say behavior problems are lessened,” she said.
The height and fully padded seats are designed to reduce the severity of impact. If a person is thrown forward, the padded seat braces the fall. Four years ago JCD had an accident when a dump truck rear ended a bus on SR 129, seriously injuring the bus driver, and putting a child in the hospital for several days.
She and a few other local transportation directors visited Thomas bus manufacturers this summer to see the care taken into making a safe bus. They showed how bumpers are reinforced, and how the bus height on the road actually protects the passengers. “The size of a bus will distribute the crash force differently,” Comer said, noting how a small car once hit the side of a moving JCD bus, and the kids in the front and middle were unaware.
School districts have a separate fund for bus replacements and operation. Comer said JCD’s buses are replaced after eight years, although the law doesn’t require it. Clark said state law requires buses 12 years and older to be inspected twice a year. He said a newer fleet like JCD’s does make a difference. Milan made adjustments to routes a few years ago to be more efficient.
Comer said it keeps their maintenance fees down, helps with resale value. Plus, there are always new features. For example, a bus driver can’t turn off or leave the bus without inspecting it front and back without loud audible warning signs set off. That’s particularly important these first days as many youngsters are likely to fall asleep on the ride home. “I know my grandson will! He is going into kindergarten and he gets sleepy in any vehicle, and this will be an adjustment,” Comer said.
She, and the others, feel confident though that the buses are up to par for the task, and safe, and want to remind others they are back out. “Hey, it’s school time. The yellow buses are sharing the road, so pay attention to what’s going on,” Bruns said.
Watch for the yellow buses
A few words of advice from school transportation directors while sharing the road with buses.
If the bus stop arm is extended, stop. Otherwise, you could be cited and fined. Indiana State Trooper Chris Clark with the commercial vehicle division, noted if it is a divided highway, such as US 50 in Dillsboro with a median, a motorist does not have to stop on the opposite side of the bus. However, if it’s a county road, and the stop arm is out, the motorist must stop.
Health care reform
Changes in the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act were discussed at the July 22 meeting of the Ripley County Commissioners. Dennis Dunlap of Dunlap HR Consulting Group advised commissioners to leave any prior changes they had made to the handbook in place and also advised which provisions have not yet met compliance.
Auditor Bill Wagner said that an employee had requested copies of paystubs from 2010 to present. Dunlap explained that he can go back 24 months. There was also a question raised pertaining to the law enforcement 7k exemption period in that the days in the schedule chosen must meet the period of the county bi-weekly payroll period. Dunlap said he spoke with wage and hour investigators in Indianapolis and South Bend and they indicated the bi-weekly payroll period of the county had no correlation to the days chosen for use of the 7k law enforcement exemption.
Bereavement leave was also discussed, as there has been some confusion over this. Dunlap told commissioners that the handbook provisions apply to the employee and his/her immediate family, not relatives of the employee’s spouse. No changes were made to the bereavement section.
Wagner said he has received calls from groups and individuals about deputies providing off-duty security details while using county vehicles. He handled the situation by informing the callers the county handbook policy does not prevent deputies from doing off-duty private work, because they are considered to be “independent contractors.” However, use of the county vehicles for these details must be cleared by commissioners as stated in the employee handbook.
Prior to Dunlap’s address, jail commander Bill McDonald with the sheriff’s office came before commissioners to request an executive session to discuss “sensitive employment issues involving hiring, firing and wages.” County attorney John Ertel explained the reason for the request did not merit an executive session and issues would have to be discussed in a public meeting. Commissioners invited McDonald to return at 10 a.m. when Dunlap would be there to discuss any issues. No one from the sheriff’s office was present during Dunlap’s discussion.
McDonald also presented two employment applications to commissioners for review and approval. He said the sheriff’s office has been extremely short-staffed. McDonald affirmed county procedure was followed when posting the positions. Commissioners unanimously approved Stephen Meister and Donald Lows for employment with the sheriff’s office.
Recorder Ginger Bradford asked why the courts did not have to follow the commissioners’ decision to not grant comp time to county employees in 2014. Commissioner Rob Reiners explained that judges hold the power to make that decision and can mandate it if they elect to do so. Bradford then asked if commissioners would reinstate comp time for the rest of the county employees for 2014, to which Reiners said they would not.
Hoosier Hills Water faced another brick wall with commissioners when they denied company president Scott Stirn’s request to make road cuts and repair them with flowable fill material on the approaches from county roads to state highways in four locations. Stirns explained the stone beneath is thick and nearly impossible to bore. Ertel reminded commissioners there are tools made for this type of work. Commissioners told Stirns that if they allow Hoosier Hills to cut the roads, everyone will want to do it and stood by their decision that roads are to be bored, not cut.
Tony Schneider with the health department said he received approval for the septic system at the possible EMS location in Delaware. Schneider said the property was approved for a mound system; however, a neighboring property was approved with a trench system. Schneider was instructed to check with the State on how to appeal this decision based on the approval of a trench system on the property next to the proposed site.
Ripley County EMS has a couple of Chase vehicles that have high miles needing replaced. EMS Director Jim Corbin requested permission from commissioners to begin looking while money is in the budget, as opposed to waiting until next year when the budget will be cut. Corbin also talked about requests from local rescue units for additional funding or a lesser charge from the county for EMS assistance on their runs. One suggestion Corbin offered was looking into paying per run. Commissioner Gary Stutler asked Corbin for a copy of the EMS road budget. Corbin said he is waiting on some of the departments and would provide them when complete.
Corbin also presented a job application from Amber Knueven for an advanced EMT position. Corbin said he has known Knueven for a while and is confident she is a good candidate for the position. Commissioners asked Corbin if proper hiring procedure was followed, to which Corbin said it was. The request was approved.
Mary Ann Gay, Osgood town attorney, approached commissioners as a citizen with an issue on a road from Versailles leading to the Busching Covered Bridge. Gay said the firm installing cable in that area had not repaired ditches and water was running across the road and undercutting the edges. Commissioners told her they would have the highway department look into the issue.
Milan town resident Luscill Sparks came before commissioners to request help in dealing with a house next to his being overgrown with poison ivy. He explained that his wife is highly allergic and cannot enjoy being out in her yard, because she requires medical attention every time she breathes it or comes into contact with it. Commissioners explained because the property is in the Town of Milan, he should approach the town council, as they hold jurisdiction. Sparks said he had done so and felt ridiculed.
He also said he contacted the health department and planning department, but did not get any help. Ertel advised Sparks to file a nuisance suit or call planning and zoning to see if a violation could be issued.
Foreman Kissell with the highway department asked commissioners who is responsible for paying for a pre-employment drug screen. Commissioners informed Kissell that if the prospective employee passes, the county reimburses the new hire.
Other business discussed included:
Prosecutor Ric Hertel was given approval to hire Wendy Meyer to replace Brenda Wilson who recently retired.
The design specs and prints drawn by Schroeder and Associates P.C. for Bridge No. 112 in the Napoleon area were presented by Darrell Smith of CPI. These will be used for quotes that are due by 10 a.m. on August 5.
Commissioners approved bidding a single-axle dump truck for the bridge crew to purchase this year.
Commissioners approved the 2014 Inter-Local Agreement with the Ripley County Economic Development Corporation for consideration.
The next meeting of the Ripley County Commissioners was held Monday, Aug. 5. Look for coverage of the meeting in an upcoming issue. The next commissioner’s meeting will be held at 7 a.m. on August. 19.
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