Hatfield points to head SOTO mechanic and state inspector Travis Hodge who keeps the buses not only running but also in tip-top condition. Hodge, an Osage alumnus, has been head mechanic for 10 years.

Students went back to school this week in lake-area communities. They clamored onto their respective buses, renewing old friendships and making new buddies.

Few of us give any serious thought to the inner workings of a school bus when we see it on the street, but school district bus transportation departments conduct a thorough examination of their fleets every year before school starts.

Not to worry at School of the Osage as the district's bus program received yet another perfect score on bus inspections conducted under the auspices of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

SOTO Director of Transportation Tony Hatfield told the board of education recently that the transportation department received 100 percent on its annual pre-school inspection.

That makes it 21 consecutive years the district has received a score of 90 percent or better on the inspections.

The district received certificates for their exemplary accomplishment from both the MSHP and Department of Elementary and Second Education.

Hatfield points to head SOTO mechanic and state inspector Travis Hodge who keeps the buses not only running but also in tip-top condition. Hodge, an Osage alumnus, has been head mechanic for 10 years.

He's also certified as a state bus inspector for MSHP. Hodge says he's been a mechanic his entire life, noting it's a family tradition. He was formerly with Hi-Tech Auto Body in Osage Beach.

Hodge said there is a checklist of 300 items on a bus that must meet state standards for a bus to receive a perfect score. A bus can be removed from service if any of the more serious mechanical components such as brakes or steering fail the test. Many of the safety items can be repaired at the time of inspection to keep the bus on the road.

Buses having one or more defective items which do not constitute an immediate danger are rated as "defective." Buses with any defective items which constitute  an immediate danger are rated as "out-of-service."

The Highway Patrol says both defective and out-of-service buses have 10 days to be repaired before being re-inspected by MSHP. Buses that are not presented within the 10-day period are reported to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

New buses

School board members recently approved the purchase of two new buses for a total of $146,242.

•A 2018 International 72-passenger International from Midwest Transit for $85,492.

•A 2017 Chevy/Collins 32-passenger from Masters Transportation at a cost of $60,750. This bus will be used primarily for Special Education student transportation. Hatfield said the SPED bus will be air conditioned to help with student behavior and to meet the concerns of some parents. The district's current SPED bus is also now air conditioned.

The district has 33 buses in service, though not all of the buses are used every day. Some are kept as backup. The oldest bus in the fleet is 2004 with the average age of the fleet 7.4 years after adding the two new buses.

President

It also was announced at last week's regular board meeting that Hatfield has been elected president of the Missouri Association for Pupil Transportation

"I'm excited because we're really trying to gear up to make changes since we know the transportation world is changing as well," Hatfield told the board. "It will always be about safety and the students and we need to move forward with new things."

He said the MAPT will continue to work closely with the Missouri State Highway Patrol.