RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New Jersey School Bus Contractors Association (NJSBCA) is speaking out on a case involving a girl who fell or jumped from the back of a special-needs school bus last month and later died from her injuries.
As previously reported, Onyx Williams was riding in the bus with three other students, and the driver and one aide were also on board.
Williams suffered serious head trauma when she either fell or jumped from the back of her school bus after opening the emergency hatch, and she passed away after doctors attempted to treat her for a fractured skull.
After the accident, The Record reported that a copy of the contract between Paterson Public Schools and its former contractor, K&M Transportation, showed that the company had agreed in September to assign two aides to Williams’ route. (Another news outlet reported that the district terminated its contract with the company following the accident, finding in its investigation that K&M Transportation had violated "certain terms and conditions of the contract.")
Now, NJSBCA reports that the company had unlawfully combined a Paterson Public Schools contracted route with another route from the South Bergen Jointure Commission, “further extending ride times and causing students to ride together that are legally contracted to ride separately.”
“Additionally, we have come to learn that this particular company continues to bid with reckless abandon, as they bid on 23 routes on Jan. 30, 2013, at the South Bergen Jointure Commission — the very same commission that earlier this month had pulled the route that was illegally performed by this contractor,” the association said in a statement.
The association went on to say that this type of activity calls for “stricter measures and a renewed effort to make sure we are keeping our children safe.”
“It is a time not only to make certain all operators are complying with the law, but it is also a time to review current practices in New Jersey whereby the lowest bidder is awarded contracts purely on a cost basis with no distinct measure on how a company operates, past history, safety programs or condition of their vehicles,” the group added.
Several years ago, legislation was enacted in the state that allows a board of education to disqualify a bidder who is determined to be the lowest responsible bidder for a pupil transportation contract if the board finds that it has had prior negative experience with the bidder. The disqualification period cannot be longer than three years.
Under the legislation, "prior negative experience" means any of the following:
• The bidder has been determined to be "nonperforming" under a pupil transportation contract after a hearing that includes the bidder, the superintendent of schools and the county superintendent of schools. The county superintendent of schools must make the determination as to nonperformance, and this determination may be appealed to the Commissioner of Education and the State Board of Education.
• The bidder defaulted on a transportation contract, thereby requiring the board of education to utilize the services of another contractor to complete the contract.
• The bidder defaulted on a transportation contract, thereby requiring the board of education to look to the bidder's surety for completion of the contract or tender of the costs of completion.
• The bidder has at least a 10% ownership in any contractor that had prior negative experience with the board of education.