Inspection reports for the Regional School Unit 71 buses removed from service earlier this month show a wide range of defects and have led Superintendent Mary Alice McLean to urge the district's Board of Directors to keep safety in mind when considering this year's budget.

"The buses (were) a safety issue and that terrified everybody," she said during budget discussions March 25.

There were two executive sessions earlier in the evening regarding transportation, but no votes were taken after an hour behind closed doors with the district's attorney.

Later in the meeting, McLean announced that bus 13, which was not included in the original six buses pulled for safety reasons, "is not repairable" and needs to be replaced.

Buses that failed a surprise State Police inspection March 6 included buses 1, 10, 11, 20, 21 and 24, according to reports released to The Republican Journal by police. Problems cited include defective body components, brakes and doors requiring service, silent horns, suspension issues, inadequate tires, loose mirrors, broken defrosters and lights, defective emergency exits, damaged seats, steering mechanism problems, defective windshield wipers, oil leaks, uninspected fire extinguishers, defective turn signals, loose step handles and improperly stored brooms, first aid kits and chemicals.

Four district buses were noted as requiring brake service or adjustment, or requiring work on the brake lines and air hoses, though not all failed inspection because of the problems.

Each inspection was signed by then-Director of Transportation and Maintenance Kevin McAvoy, whom McLean placed on leave pending an investigation. The mechanic for the district also was placed on leave, and McLean at the time declined to name the mechanic. Interim personnel, all of whom were previously employed by the district, remain in place and no further information has been released about the investigation.

To prevent future problems, McLean said during the budget workshop that she is focused on safety of students and staff. To that end, she has suggested additional positions, including an assistant principal at Capt. Albert Stevens School, a full-time elementary school nurse (currently there are two full-time nurses serving five elementary schools), and another mechanic, as well as more support for the transportation department.

Several directors wondered about the criteria and said it was the first time they were hearing about a "safety screen" being applied to the budget. Director Charlie Gray went a step further and asked if there is "a crisis in our schools that we are concerned about safety?" Board members spoke about national safety concerns but did not cite specific local safety issues of concern.

The RSU 71 Board of Directors has another budget workshop scheduled for Monday, April 1, during which transportation is expected to be discussed. All workshops and meetings are open to the public.