Bus drivers must pass background checksFARGO — A February incident involving a West Fargo school bus driver who had a 0.27 percent blood alcohol level while on duty shocked the community.
By: Amy Dalrymple , The Dickinson Press
FARGO — A February incident involving a West Fargo school bus driver who had a 0.27 percent blood alcohol level while on duty shocked the community.
But perhaps most disappointed by the news were fellow school bus drivers who follow the rules every day but now have a shadow of suspicion cast upon them, said Brad Redmond, West Fargo’s transportation director.
“Parents are looking at you like, are you one of them?” Redmond said of how many bus drivers felt following the incident.
The driver, Steve Sauer, 59, was arrested after his bus left 32nd Avenue West on Feb. 2 and became stuck in the snow. He was on his way to pick up children at a West Fargo elementary school.
Sauer pleaded guilty this month to actual physical control of a vehicle while intoxicated.
Sauer, a driver at the time for Valley Bus Co., immediately lost his job.
The incident also was difficult for bus drivers in other metro school districts.
“Personally to me, it’s an affront,” said Chris Pinkney, transportation coordinator for Fargo Public Schools. “It’s an affront to every driver we have out there in a yellow school bus.”
But school and bus company officials emphasize that this was a one-time occurrence and there are safeguards in place to prevent such incidents from happening.
“It’s about an isolated an incident as I’m hoping we’re ever going to see,” Pinkney said.
School bus drivers are required to have a commercial driver’s license and meet all state and federal standards.
North Dakota school bus drivers will have their CDL suspended for one year after a drunken driving conviction, said Jen Blumhagen, deputy chief examiner for the North Dakota Department of Transportation. A second DUI means a lifetime loss of commercial driving privileges, she said.
A CDL also will be suspended for a driver with 12 or more points on a license, Blumhagen said.
In Minnesota, a school bus driver who commits an alcohol-related offense listed in the statutes will lose the CDL for at least a year. A second offense results in lifetime loss of privileges.
School bus drivers have to pass thorough background checks before they ever get on a bus with children.
The West Fargo district requires FBI fingerprint background checks.
The national sex offender registry is also checked, as well as the registries for every state the applicant has lived in, said Robin Hill, West Fargo human resources director.
Drivers also are subject to random drug and alcohol testing.
Moorhead and Fargo have similar requirements.
The districts or bus companies also monitor drivers’ records once or twice a year.
Once drivers are hired, they have continual training.
Dan Bacon, transportation director for Moorhead Public Schools, said he was sad and frustrated after hearing about the West Fargo incident.
“People who take a job like this, 99 percent of them take it very seriously and don’t go out the night before, let alone the day of,” Bacon said. “They understand what they’re hauling and who they’re hauling for. They respect what they do.”
In the case of Sauer, he passed all drug and alcohol checks before being hired and didn’t appear intoxicated to several people before he drove his bus into a snow bank, Valley Bus route manager Roger Peterson told The Forum after the incident.
Sauer didn’t return a call seeking comment.
West Fargo school officials reviewed the situation and found that Valley Bus followed its contract with the district, Hill said.
In the future, Redmond will have more interaction with Valley Bus drivers before they are assigned to a specific route, he said.
“You’ve got to really fit personalities with routes,” Redmond said.
Bacon said it can be difficult to find good bus drivers.
“People don’t think of that as a career field that they want to get into,” he said. “It’s not one of those attractive fields.”
Most of the jobs are part time, driving about two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoons, with the addition of some field trips and extra routes.
Pay for bus drivers in the metro area ranges from $12.55 per hour to $15.55 per hour.
Temperament is the No. 1 thing Redmond said he looks for when hiring a new driver.
“The hardest part about this job isn’t navigating a 40-foot bus down residential streets, it’s maintaining a respectful environment on the bus and dealing with children,” Redmond said.
Redmond asks all applicants if they have anxieties about driving a school bus. If they don’t respond that they’re worried about a child getting hurt, they’re not right for the job, he said.
“It should be every driver’s fear that a kid would get hurt on the bus,” Redmond said.
Dalrymple is a reporter at
The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by
Forum Communications Co.