Although the second grader and fifth grader who found the bullet Tuesday afternoon as the bus was pulling out of Tinley Park's Fulton School turned it over to the bus driver, the bus company didn't notify the district for nearly 24 hours. By then, the district had already heard about it from the children's parents.
Those facts – and a similar incident where a bus crashed through a middle school science classroom and no video was available – could cost Illinois Central School Bus its three-year contract with the district. All within the first six months.
"To have had two incidents that we've had this year where there have been no tapes and we had major happenings, that's not acceptable," board member John Carey, Jr., said during Thursday night's board meeting.
Board President Wants Out of Contract
The board will vote next month on whether to pull out of the three-year bus contract. The district is still within the six-month opt-out period.
"I would be very surprised if we didn't re-bid the contract," board President Dean Casper said. "That's going to be my recommendation to my colleagues."
On Tuesday, two students found the .44-caliber bullet when they got on the bus at Fulton, Casper said. They promptly turned it over to the bus driver who, instead of telling teachers inside the school, pulled out from the school and started on the route, Casper said.
From there, there was a further lack of communication. The bus driver waited to tell the dispatcher, who then didn't tell the manager until Wednesday morning. The manager had the bus searched, at which point a 9 mm bullet was also found.
Then the company didn't tell the district until Wednesday afternoon, nearly 24 hours after the children found the first bullet, Casper said.
"The actions of our two employees were unforgivable and shocking and they have been appropriately disciplined," said Pat McCarthy, who handles community relations for Illinois Central School Bus.
No Video for Bullets, Crash or Stranded Child
When district officials looked at the video from the surveillance cameras inside the bus to see what happened, there was nothing but a blue screen, said Director of Business Services Mark Schilling.
Video was available of the morning and noon route, but not the afternoon route where the students found the bullet.
"We are very unhappy that we had one particular route we wanted to look at and that did not happen," Schilling said.
The district eventually determined through GPS and detective work that a Central Middle School student who rides the bus brought the bullets to show to friends, Casper said. The student has been disciplined, said Superintendent Marion Hoyda.
This was one of several incidents where the district asked to review video after an incident only to find video was unavailable, most notably the early November crash when a bus went through an Orland Park Junior High science classroom wall, but also an incident in the first few weeks of school where a kindergartner was dropped off two blocks from the right stop, Casper said.
When asked after Thursday night's school board meeting, McCarthy said he did not recall whether video was available after the Orland Park crash, saying the company has more than 2,500 buses to keep track of.
Hired, Could Be Fired for Video
This is the first year Illinois Central School Bus had the 146 contract. The previous bus company had been let go after 25 years for the exact same reason the Illinois Central contract could be terminated, Casper said. They kept being unable to provide video after incidents.
"Their Waterloo was not getting us the tapes," Casper said.
In the case of the old bus company, the tapes were actually VHS tapes, which were often of poor quality or taped over before the district could review them. Part of the reason Illinois Central got the contract, Casper said, is because they provided ostensibly more reliable digital video that could be e-mailed after an incident.
Despite the harsh words to Illinois Central, the district praised two people in particular for their appropriate and professional response – the children who found the first bullet.
"They acted very responsibly," Hoyda said. "They gave the bus driver the bullet. They told their parents about it."