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Monitoring school bus drivers

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A recent arrest of a Tulsa school bus driver raises some questions about how the Tulsa School district decides who can get behind the wheel.

Tulsa Police arrested Patrick Rodriguez[pictured] for outstanding warrants this week, after they caught him speeding in a school zone near East Central High School. Court records show Rodriguez shouldn't have been driving at all. His driver's license was suspended last spring for driving without insurance and several unpaid tickets. His license has been suspended numerous times in the last five years.

Now some folks are asking how someone with this kind of driving record could be hired to drive a school bus. News on 6 reporter Ashli Sims talked with the head of the Tulsa Public Schools' transportation department and says Tulsa Public Schools checks driving records twice a year for everyone who works for the transportation department.

Tulsa School officials say they checked Rodriguez's record last February. The Department of Public Safety verified that his license was not suspended at that time.

Tulsa Public Schools says there's a system in place to try to protect your children. Before your child ever climbs on to a school bus, Tulsa Public Schools says they check and double-check the driver. TPS transportation director Bob Haddox: "We do background checks on the DMV. We do annual drug tests in the summer for every driver with a CDL; we do random drug testing if it’s warranted. We do just about anything and everything you can think of."

Bob Haddox says the system is in place to weed out drivers with criminal histories or poor driving records. But he admits sometimes drivers like Patrick Rodriguez, who was caught speeding through a school zone, can slip through the cracks. "One has to look at how often does this kind of thing happen and it is rare but it does happen and we don't like it."

TPS takes speeding very seriously. And they're using technology to make sure the folks behind the wheel are following the law. The transportation department's nerve center is linked to the school district's fleet of school buses through a satellite tracking system or GPS. They can tell if a bus is late or going the wrong direction. And it already provides a daily report on who is going over 65 miles per hour on the highways. "They were going 65, 67, or 70 which is not dangerous but it’s not the law and we told them we want them to stick to the 65."

Soon they will be able to track bus speeds real time. And a red light will flash to alert officials, when bus drivers start speeding. If the computer catches you speeding three times, you can be suspended and possibly fired.

Tulsa School officials say Patrick Rodriguez usually worked as a mechanic. They say it’s no excuse, but normally he wouldn't be behind the wheel. He was only on the road because of a bus driver shortage.

The school district says they're down about 35 drivers.
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