June 4, 2013 05:28
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Although it claimed to have learned valuable lessons from the drunk driving arrest of school bus driver Kenny Mire in 2009, the school system has yet to adopt a new policy for hiring school bus drivers. Problematic issues with the Lafayette Parish School System's hiring policy for bus drivers - namely the lack of criminal background checks - came to light nearly six years ago; the problem was reiterated two years later with the drunk driving arrest of Kenny Mire, and despite a resolution by the school board for a remedy, the policy remains the same as it has for more than a decade.

The arrest came on the night of Sept. 9, 2009, by Louisiana State Police, which reported Mire had admitted to drinking and "performed poorly" on the field sobriety test. The following morning, at about 3 a.m., Mire bonded out of jail, and eventually got behind the wheel of his bus and drove students to Acadiana High and J. Wallace James Elementary, despite registering a blood alcohol content of .174 - it's illegal to drive in Louisiana with a BAC of .08 - only several hours earlier.

A tenured bus driver, Mire was put on paid leave and continued earning his $17,000 annual salary while the school system awaited a determination on his pending OWI by the 15th Judicial District Court. The case finally went to court about three weeks ago. According to his attorney, Barry Sallinger, Mire pleaded no contest. "He received the typical sentence for anyone entering a plea in the 15th," Sallinger says.

Though Mire will keep his Class E driver's license, his plea did result in 32 hours of community service and a one year suspension of his CDL privileges, a requirement for his job driving the children of LPSS.

The next step for Mire is an administrative hearing before the school board, which will determine his fate as an LPSS bus driver.

"We have a meeting this afternoon, but Kenny isn't on the agenda," says School Board President Shelton Cobb, who spoke by phone with The IND this morning. "He will have to face some type of hearing to determine his future with the school system, but I'm not sure when that will be."

Issues with the school system's hiring policies for bus drivers were first brought to light by former investigative reporter Jason Brown's "Who's at the Wheel?" article, published in May 2007 by The Daily Advertiser.

Brown's article examined the criminal backgrounds of LPSS' bus drivers, and the fact the hiring process was void of background checks. Mire also was named in Brown's report as the employee with the longest rap sheet. According to the report, Mire's first OWI arrest, which was eventually dismissed, came in 1993. That arrest was followed by two more run-ins with the law, as Mire was arrested twice in 2002 for simple battery/domestic violence and again for simple burglary, which was later reduced to attempted felony theft over $500.

 Kenny Mire's mug shots


Following his 2009 arrest, Mire was featured in The IND's cover story "Asleep at the Wheel," resulting in a pledge from the school board to redraft its policies pertaining to pre-hire background checks and its requirements and penalties for bus drivers arrested for OWI.

Along with the lack of background checks, that story raised other issues:

Current school board policy outlined in the "Bus Driver and Bus Attendant Handbook," dated October 1998, calls for bus drivers to be terminated after a second offense OWI while on duty. There is no mention of what happens after a first offense OWI while on duty, nor is there anything in the policy addressing consequences for off-duty OWIs.

What if a bus driver gets off on a technicality? Why does a termination hinge on a conviction? It could be written into the policy that if the blood alcohol test is validated, the driver is fired. What about a driver who clearly fails a field sobriety test that is captured on tape but he isn't convicted for some other reason? What if the driver refuses the BAC? Either of those could be grounds for termination, but there must be a policy. If we have to live with tenure, let's address conduct outside of employment. With the proper policies in place, the school board could hold a hearing for the employee, either private or public, and make a determination about his conduct and whether he should return to work.

Though nearly four years have passed, board President Cobb says fixing those policy issues remains "in the works."

Since Thursday, several calls were made to Lafayette Parish Transportation Director Bill Samec to discuss Mire and the bus driver hiring policies. We have yet to hear back.

According to the LPSS website, the policy for hiring bus drivers, which was last revised in 2000, reads:

 

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