Posted: Jun 11, 2013 4:30 PM by Marnee Banks - MTN News
HELENA - An alarming report shows that more than 60 Montana school bus drivers have a criminal history.
The Legislative Audit Division released the report, outlining some serious problems with the state's school transportation system.
In Montana, there are just over 1,400 bus drivers who take public school students to and from school. According to this audit, not all these drivers are of "good moral character."
"The audit actually discovered that there were a few districts that had some bus drivers that hadn't had their backgrounds checked recently," OPI Deputy Director Dennis Parman said.
There is no state law or rule that requires a background check on bus drivers. However, many local school districts willingly screen them.
But it's clearly not enough.
According to the report:
- 64 active bus drivers have some sort of criminal history
- 8 drivers have been arrested for felonies
- 1 has an active warrant out for his arrest
~ 1 inactive driver is on the Sexual and Violent Offender Registry
"School safety is always our highest priority and student safety within the school, or in this case, on the bus, also remain in that high level of concern. We take the audit finding very seriously," Parman said.
In order to address these problems, OPI agrees that changes need to be made. For starters, the agency wants to more clearly define "good moral character."
"We also want to amend the rule with the Board of Public Education to be very definitive in terms of not only conducting pre-employment background checks but also to do follow-up background checks on a regular basis," Parman said.
OPI believes that the responsibility to conduct the background checks should fall on the local school districts and not the state.
The agency hopes to have these new procedures in place by the middle of next school year.
This report will be officially released on Thursday at the Legislative Audit Committee meeting where lawmakers will have a chance to review the report and ask questions.
Locally, a Bozeman School District representative says that the district contracts through First Student for its bus drivers. She said the company does run background checks on its drivers. We have a call in to First Student seeking comment, but so far have not heard back yet.