South-Western City School District school buses may be off the road for summer vacation, but it's the busy season for the district's transportation department, which already is working to get the fleet ready for classes to begin again in September.
Every district bus driver conducts an end of the year inspection before they turn their vehicle in to the department.
On a recent morning, bus driver Marion Wangugi was looking over her bus.
"It's like a spring cleaning of your house," she said. "We have a checklist we follow. We have to make sure it's fully equipped and that everything's cleaned up."
The exterior and interior of the buses must be cleaned, and that includes checking underneath seat cushions, Wangugi said.
"The kids like to put their gum and other things down in the seats," she said. "It's kids being kids."
Each bus must be cleaned and inventoried by its driver before summer maintenance work can begin, Transportation Supervisor Tim Cox said.
"Their end is our beginning," he said.
To get the work done, the district hires five or six summer workers to assist the seven full-time mechanics it has on staff, Cox said.
Crews give each bus a complete maintenance inspection over the summer to make sure the vehicles meet state standards.
The work includes checking and cleaning the engines and checking for needed repair or replacement of each part of the bus interior and exterior, Cox said.
Each bus spends an average of one or two days in the department's garage for repair and replacement work, he said.
More than 100 elements must be checked off before the bus is considered ready for inspection by the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
The patrol will be inspecting South-Western's fleet of 193 buses Aug. 18-25, Cox said. Even one minor infraction can cause the state to ban a vehicle from the road.
A total of 157 buses are used to drive routes during the school year. he said. The other 36 buses are used for field trips and for back up, in case the regular vehicles break down.
South-Western transports students to 74 schools, including 31 district buildings as well as private and charter schools, special education schools located out of the district and preschool buildings.
"Our buses drive more than 14,000 miles each school day, which is the equivalent of three round-trips to California," Cox said. "It's an amazing total."
The task of planning the following year's bus routes begins in May and continues through the summer, he said. Families will be notified of the final bus schedules about a week to 10 days before the school year starts.
Ahead of the school year, bus drivers will take their vehicles out to make practice runs along their route, making sure they will be able to pick up and get all students to school on time, Cox said.
Each bus driver also goes through in-service sessions before the school year, he said.
New bus drivers also are hired during the summer, Cox said.
"Some people may think we don't do a lot now that the buses are off the road," he said. "But summer's a very busy time for us. We have a lot to do to make sure the buses are ready to go in September."