The Iowa Department of Education transportation office announced that Joe Funk will take over as a new state school bus inspector, overseeing school bus inspections for western Iowa, effective immediately.
He is replacing Owen Freese, who retired at the end of December after serving the department since 1999. With this hiring, Iowa once again has two state inspectors charged with inspecting about 7,500 school buses every six months. The Iowa school bus inspection process is considered unique in the industry because it is self-funded by fees garnered from nearly 15,000 vehicle inspections each year.
Funk comes to the DOE from the River Bend Transit Agency in Davenport, where he served as lead technician for 12 years and managed the maintenance program for their 69-bus fleet. He was chosen from a pool of 50-plus applicants during the selection process in January.
State transportation director Max Christensen noted that everyone in the department is eager for Funk to come aboard.
"He's going to make a great addition to our team, and we all look forward to working with him in the months and years to come," said Christensen. "His experience and expertise was quite apparent during the interview process, and now it's time to put him to work in helping to keep students in Iowa safe while on the school bus."
Christensen has been working with state lawmakers and transportation officials to call for mandated inspections of all school vehicles transporting students to and from athletic, academic and extracurricular events. Current law only requires inspections of buses on regular routes, excluding the growing number of vans and SUVs used in this capacity.
While he said he would like to see the law expanded to include these other vehicles, Christensen told STN this would stretch his current staff too thin. Iowa's two inspectors visit each of the state's 348 districts twice a year.
"They are very disciplined as they put their schedules together because they conduct approximately 15,000 inspections a year. Each one takes about 15 minutes, so that comes out to 46 weeks of work, not including the time it takes the guys to travel district to district," added Christensen, who is also the president of NASDPTS.
State Sen. Mary Jo Wilhelm pushed a bill mandating school vehicle inspections to Senate passage last year, but it failed to clear the House Transportation Committee. Odds of a similar measure's passage in 2013, she said, will depend on House Republicans.