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Child-restraint seats built into two new school buses

Child restraints built into seats on the district’s two new special needs buses are inspected by transportation supervisor Deb Rickert, bus mechanic Thomas Maurer and district treasurer Robert Kuehnle.

      Additional safety – in the form of child restraints for very young students – is built into the two new special needs buses recently delivered to Mansfield City Schools.

      The 60-passenger buses, which also feature wheelchair power lifts, each has 16 of the child-restraint seats.

      “The back of the seat folds down to allow access to a restraint similar to a child’s car seat,” district treasurer Robert Kuehnle said.

      Transportation supervisor Deb Rickert said the restraint seats will be used for the smallest students – preschool children can be as young as 3 and 4– and some special needs students who need to be secured to assure their safety.

      Kuehnle and Rickert have worked together for the past 2 ½ years to upgrade the district’s bus fleet, securing board of education approval to purchase a dozen buses during that period. In addition to the special needs buses Rickert took delivery of two standard 71-passenger buses last week.

      The district now has a fleet of 38 regular buses and nine special needs buses. Some are held as spares for the 26 regular routes and seven special needs routes that will be run daily when school starts on Aug. 23.

      Rickert attended the May 1 board of education meeting to thank the board for approving purchase of the four new buses.

      “We don’t have any 20- or 30-year-old buses anymore,” she said. “I think we have the most modern fleet in Richland County.”

      The four new buses will be inspected by the Ohio Highway Patrol on Friday. All others were inspected in June.

      “Buses are inspected twice a year, then after Aug. 1 the Patrol conducts spot inspections. They check the interior as well as everything mechanical,” said district mechanic Thomas Maurer. “Probably the only thing looked over more closely than a school bus is an airplane.”

      All of the buses purchased in recent years are Internationals, the result of the lowest bids secured through META Solutions, a purchasing cooperative in Marion which represents several area school districts.

      A 71-passenger, diesel-powered bus costs approximately $83,000, a special needs bus equipped with a wheelchair power lift runs about $91.000. Standard warranties are for five years. The district pays $2,400 for two additional years.

      “The newer buses are much more driver-friendly,” Maurer said. “They have power driver seats and power door openers – no more having to reach to operate a hand lever. And all have automatic transmissions. Instrument panels are standard; light switches and other controls are in the same place, making it much easier if a driver has to move to another bus.”

      Rickert said drivers also can control the positioning of their mirrors from their seats. Earlier buses required a cumbersome manual procedure.

      The transportation department will continue to use a mileage tracking system developed by WEX and implemented by Kuehnle and Rickart last year.

      “Each driver has a credit card for fuel purchases. At the pump the driver enters his or her ID and the bus’s odometer reading,” Kuehnle explained. “The WEX software allows us to track the fuel efficiency of each bus. If we see something out of line, we can move that bus into the shop to be checked by our mechanics.”

      The credit cards cannot be used for coffee, snacks or other personal purchases.

      “Each credit card stays with the bus. It would be worthless to anyone else because it cannot be activated without the driver’s ID,” Rickert said.

      By law, Mansfield City Schools must provide bus transportation to private and parochial schools within the district and to special needs students who attend nearby districts.

      While accommodating MCS students, Rickert also must provide bus service to Foundation Academy, Richland Academy, Mansfield St. Mary’s, Mansfield St. Peter’s, Mansfield Christian, Discovery School and Seventh Day Adventist School. Special needs students are transported to Pioneer Career and Technology Center in Shelby and to the LEAP program in Crestline.

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