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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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School Bus Safety At Heart Of Contract

A new five-year contract should make school bus rides quieter and safer for Spokane students and drivers, school officials say.

More video cameras, higher pay and specially trained drivers are included in the contract approved by Spokane School District 81 board members Wednesday.

At the heart of the contract with Laidlaw Transit Inc. is an agreement to maintain a fledgling program that matches the best drivers with the rowdiest of the 138 routes.

“It’s working better than any expectations we might have had,” said Verna Landy, Laidlaw’s Spokane branch manager.

Six drivers, called field support specialists, will continue to be assigned to the routes with the noisiest and most out-of-control riders.

One specialist tackled a Logan Elementary School route last November after a driver parked his bus for more than an hour to try to calm shouting, crying, screaming kids.

Angry parents tracked down the bus and pulled off their children, while one boy jumped from an emergency exit.

The new contract, effective Sept. 1, also calls for 30 video cameras instead of the 10 now swapped from bus to bus.

The cameras are used to monitor both drivers and riders.

“It documents Johnny’s and Susie’s behavior on a bus and doesn’t allow for a difference of opinion,” said Joe Madsen, District 81’s safety director.

Other upgrades include more pagers and portable radios, new software for computerized routing and identification badges for drivers.

Laidlaw still is negotiating its own contract with drivers, who are represented by the Washington State Council of County and City Employees.

But those who drive for Spokane schools will get at least $8 an hour in entry-level pay in keeping with the District 81 contract, Landy said. That’s a raise from $7 an hour.

Madsen said he hopes the increase will help in hiring and keeping quality employees in a business where turnover is high.

District 81 began contracting with Laidlaw three years ago. Only one other company, Santa Barbara Transportation, bid for the contract this time.

The cost for the first year will be about $5.5 million, according to district records. Inflation could affect the cost in the contract’s final years. , DataTimes

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