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Bus drivers claim co-worker 'unsafe'

Two South Kitsap School District bus drivers have launched a campaign to keep a fellow bus driver involved in an accident last month from returning to his job, claiming he is “chronically inattentive” and unsafe behind the wheel.

SKSD bus driver Monica Mulligan and a co-worker — who asked that her name be withheld — said the driver, who was involved in an accident last month and is currently on leave from his job, has a history of distracted driving and they want him off the road.

“He has been driving for the district for more than 10 years and has had several accidents,” said Mulligan, explaining that several bus drivers have witnessed accidents such as one where he was allegedly drinking coffee, or another where he allegedly put his bus into reverse rather than drive and backed up 10 feet while children were boarding other buses nearby.

“He is constantly distracted and his inattentiveness is beyond control,” she said.

Mulligan, in addition to her bus driving duties, is also a parent, with a son and daughter who ride in the suspect driver’s vehicle each day — one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

She said she was panicked Sept. 5 when she heard his bus crashed into a telephone pole that morning on the way to Burley Glenwood Elementary School.

“I heard it on the radio and I was freaking out — I thought my daughter was on the bus,” she said.

Neither her daughter nor her son turned out to be on the bus, but 30 other children were, she said, all whom could have been seriously injured when a section of the telephone pole the bus clipped broke off and she said fell on the vehicle’s roof.

“He’s lucky nobody got seriously hurt, although one boy got a minor injury,” she said.

Mulligan said she heard from one of the children aboard the bus that morning that shortly before the accident the driver had turned around to talk to some students who were arguing, then the bus slid off Oak road between Bethel Burley and Madrona Roads.

“We all have done that — taken our attention off the road to stop a fight,” she said. “But most of us don’t drive off the road.”

Willa Werner, the district’s director of transportation, said she was on the scene of the Sept. 5 accident shortly after it occurred.

Mulligan said she filed a formal request with the school district to receive a copy of the accident report, and has made steps to plead her case before the school board in an executive session.

In the meantime, she said, she and her husband plan to distribute a petition to have the driver permanently taken off the road, and plan to hand out fliers to parents of children on his routes.

“I’m doing this as a parent, to let them know that this man is going to be driving their kids,” Mulligan said. “I have absolutely nothing against him personally — I just don’t want him driving my kids.”

School district spokeswoman Aimee Warthen said the bus driver the women are complaining about had “received no prior written warning given to him related to safety issues.”

Warthen confirmed the driver is on a leave of absence, but said that it is injury-related.

Werner said she does not consider any of the drivers currently employed at the district to be unsafe.

“In my two-and-a-half years here, we haven’t had anyone driving that I would classify as unsafe,” Werner said.

Werner said the district has no official criteria in place that would classify a driver as unsafe. Instead, she said, each incident is taken on a case-by-case basis.

“If a driver is involved in an accident, that would definitely send a flag up,” she said. “But to my knowledge, we have never taken someone permanently off the road, although drivers can be taken off the road while an accident investigation is going on.”

Director of Personnel Greg Roberts said he believes a “lock-step” approach — such as prescribed, progressive discipline — in dealing with driver accidents is not the proper way to address the issue.

“Mistakes occur and a driver’s skill lapses,” Roberts said. “We want to look at the nature of each accident, whether it was serious or minor, and what caused the accident.”

Roberts said the district does not have specific criteria to determine what would classify an accident as serious or minor, but said, for example, simply having children on board could move an incident into the serious category.

“Children do not have to be injured for the accident to be considered serious,” he said. “If there are students on board, and it is an on-the-road accident, that is a concern.”

Warthen said the district follows a strict procedure each time a bus is involved in an accident, including relieving the driver of duty immediately following and having them undergo drug and alcohol tests.

In addition, Warthen said, the district’s Transportation Accident Review Committee — made up of five drivers, the district’s driver trainer and Jan Harrison, the assistant director of transportation — determine “whether the incident was preventable on the part of the driver, (and that) outcome would be the catalyst in determing what kind of action would be taken.”

Warthen said that board had completed their review of the Sept. 5 accident and determined it was “preventable” and therefore the fault of the driver. She said she believed he had been reprimanded for the incident.

Once a driver is found at fault in an accident — such as the driver in question — Warthen continued, the “district will schedule the driver for retraining, both in the classroom and behind the wheel, in the functions that were found to be in error.”

The extent of the training, Warthen said, will depend on the severity and nature of the circumstances surrounding the accident.

However, Mulligan’s co-worker said prior to the incidents in September, she has never known of a driver being required to undergo retraining by the district after an accident, and claimed it often took months or even years for the district’s accident review board to investigate accidents.

Roberts did not specify when the district adopted its policy of mandatory driver retraining, but did concede it was fairly recent.

“It is a relatively new policy,” he said.

Warthen said both Mulligan and her co-worker had approached the district about holding an executive session of the school board to review their complaint against the bus driver.

However, Warthen said before the complaint can be brought to executive session, it must first be submitted in writing to Roberts — since it is a personnel matter — who then presents the matter to Superintendent Bev Cheney.

Only Cheney can bring a possible executive matter before the board, who then makes the final decision on what it will address, Warthen said.

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