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Audit: Saratoga Springs lacks oversight of bus vendors

Audit: Saratoga Springs lacks oversight of bus vendors

Statewide audit spotlights bus safety issues
Audit: Saratoga Springs lacks oversight of bus vendors
Saratoga Springs City School District Transportation offices and garage in the Grande Industrial Park are pictured on Wednesday.
Photographer: Erica Miller

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- The Saratoga Springs City School District has not provided proper oversight of a pair of transportation vendors, according to a statewide audit of school bus safety that found “significant issues” at multiple school districts in the state.

The audit, which included a statewide report as well as individual district reports, found Saratoga Springs district officials failed to sufficiently oversee two transportation vendors during the 2016-17 school year, resulting in drivers who were not included on a random drug testing list and drivers who had not completed required training.

“District officials should take an active role in overseeing their own transportation department and contracted vendors’ activities,” auditors wrote of Saratoga Springs district.

Four drivers with one of the vendors, Durrin Inc., of Saratoga, took their vehicles home at the end of the shift and started their shifts from home, limiting the supervision of those drivers, the audit states.

“This does not subject them to observation by a trained official to ensure that they are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol prior to starting a run,” the audit noted.

The results of the broader audit suggest statewide problems with how districts oversee outside companies they pay for transportation services. The audit found problems in all seven of the districts it analyzed – districts selected to provide a broad representation of school systems statewide. Across the seven districts, auditors found problems with superintendents not approving all drivers, drivers not receiving all their training, safety drills not being completed or documented and districts not documenting and following up on complaints.

“Failing to ensure that school bus drivers are properly trained and vetted, and safety drills take place, could endanger students,” state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a prepared statement released with the audit report. “With the upcoming school year upon us, superintendents and school boards need to act quickly to address their district's shortcomings.”

In Saratoga Springs, the district was called out primarily for the oversight of a pair of outside vendors: Durrin Inc. and Upstate Transit, also of Saratoga. (While the audit refers to the contractors as Vendor A and Vendor B, a spokesman for the Comptroller’s Office identified the companies involved.)

The district does control and manage the vast majority of its transportation operation, transporting most all of its students in district school buses. But for students with out-of-district placements, primarily those with special needs who attend specialized programs around the region, the district contracts with the outside transportation vendors.

The district acknowledged to auditors it was unaware that Durrin was at risk of losing its license to transport students if it failed to resolve problems identified in a review by the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Its other vendor, Upstate Transit, was unable to document whether one of its 11 drivers had completed required training.

“The reliance on vendors and oversight agencies can result in areas being overlooked,” auditors wrote.

The audit also cited the district’s lack of an efficient process for documenting and following up on complaints about the vendor services.

District spokeswoman Maura Manny, in a written response to questions about the audit findings, noted the district’s internal transportation service was in compliance with the state requirement and said officials had taken actions to improve oversight of the vendors. She also suggested the district would like to further minimize its use of outside transportation providers in the future.

“The school district’s goal is to transport all of its students,” district spokeswoman Maura Manny said in the written statement Thursday. “The district currently doesn’t have the resources in the way of buses or amount of bus drivers to cover all of its out-of-district transportation. We continue to look at ways to improve upon this.”

Manny said the district has confidence in the vendors going forward and that the vendors were cooperating with the district to adopt checklists and other measures to ensure they meet state requirements. The district was also working with the vendors on a new complaint log.

She said the district planned to audit the vendors each year to ensure they were complying with state requirements, adding that both of the vendors had recently been audited and shiown to be in compliance.

“The district realizes the need to monitor the vendors and also learned from the audit,” Manny said in the statement.

Neither of the vendors responded to requests for comment.

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