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Laidlaw’s Records on Bus Drivers Were Sloppy, but Not False, CHP Says

Times Staff Writer

California Highway Patrol investigators have found no evidence to support allegations that employees of Laidlaw Transit falsified training records to make rookie school bus drivers appear more experienced, a CHP spokesman said Monday.

Investigators determined, however, that Laidlaw supervisors kept sloppy and incomplete records on school bus drivers and their training, Officer Ralph Elvira said. State law requires that records be kept on the training of such drivers.

“We couldn’t prove any blatant falsification of records,” Elvira said. The company was told to upgrade and fix its records and has complied with the Highway Patrol’s order, he said.

The CHP began investigating the company in October after former Laidlaw employees accused their supervisors of doctoring and destroying the training records of drivers serving two Santa Clarita Valley school districts.

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Prosecutors from the district attorney’s office reviewed the CHP investigation and decided Thursday not to file charges, Elvira said.

The CHP findings will be reviewed by the state Department of Education, which aided in the investigation. Poor record-keeping, while not criminal, might prompt a reprimand from the state, said Ron Kinney, supervisor of school transportation for the department.

Laidlaw and school officials are also awaiting the results of an independent audit that could affect the company’s future with the William S. Hart Union High School District and the Newhall School District.

Hart and Newhall trustees ordered the audit to determine the cause of numerous school bus scheduling problems since classes began in September. School officials said chronically late buses left scores of students stranded at bus stops.

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The auditors also are investigating allegations made at a Nov. 1 hearing held by the Assembly Transportation Committee. Parents and former Laidlaw employees accused bus drivers of using drugs on the job and of abusively disciplining students.

The audit should be completed by late February, said James Bown, director of support services for the Hart district. The two districts agreed to pay an independent consulting firm $30,000 to conduct the audit.

“Obviously, I’m pleased there was no illegal activity,” Hart Supt. Clyde Smyth said of the results of the CHP investigation. But Smyth said he is still eager to hear how the Department of Education evaluates the inquiry.

A month earlier, an angry Smyth gave Laidlaw officials a tongue-lashing, sternly warning them that Hart and Newhall trustees were close to terminating their contracts with the bus company. Bus service has continued to improve since Smyth’s warning, Bown said.

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“They’re not perfect, but they are improving,” he said.

Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda), chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, said Tuesday that the hearing and the CHP investigation have raised serious questions about whether private companies should operate school buses.

At the hearing, CHP officials testified that during the last school year, the accident rate for school buses operated by private firms was 15.1 accidents per 1 million miles. By comparison, the accident rate for school buses run by school districts was 8.6 accidents per 1 million miles.

Katz said his committee plans to schedule a hearing on privately run school bus companies early next year.

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