DPI Spokesman Calls State Auditor “Unprofessional” and “Ridiculous” While Defending School Bus Inspection Language on Website

North Dakota State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler speaks to reporters on Wednesday, April 2, 2019, concerning a "family engagement cabinet." Jack Dura / Bismarck Tribune

Yesterday state Auditor Josh Gallion’s office released a report focusing on the Department of Public Instruction and school bus inspections.

“State Auditor Joshua Gallion today released an audit of the North Dakota Highway Patrol which shows from July 2016 through June 2018, the agency was not following internal policies for school bus inspections, was inaccurately tracking the inspections and was not working off a complete list of vehicles to be inspected,” a press release states.

“The purpose of these inspections is to ensure the safety features are working properly on buses that transport thousands of North Dakota children,” Gallion himself is quoted as saying in the release. “The fact that the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction falsely advertises that inspections are done on 100 percent of school buses is concerning.”

But Superintendent Kirsten Baesler fired back at Gallion in her own press release, claiming he was wrong about the scope DPI was claiming for bus inspections.

Here’s a screen shot of Baesler’s release. Note the highlighted section:

The thing is, DPI has certainly implied 100 percent school bus inspections. Page 3 (PDF page 8) of a school bus driver’s manual issued by DPI says: “All vehicles used to transport students must be inspected annually by the Highway Patrol. A valid inspection sticker must be visible in the bus.”

If school districts “must” inspect all buses, one might reasonably conclude that all buses are being inspected.

DPI’s website also has similar language. Only the website has been changed in response to the audit report.

Archive.org has a cached copy of the safety section of DPI’s website which was captured way back in 2016. This is the most recent cached copy I could find of the site. Here’s an excerpt, and please note the highlight:

Gallion also provided me with a screenshot he says his office took of the website while they were conducting the audit (click for a larger view):

But this is what the website says currently:

“It was updated yesterday,” DPI spokesman Dale Wetzel said when I asked about the cached versions of the website.

Wetzel said the change was not made with the intent to hide anything. “We didn’t change the website to turn around and stick him,” he said, referring to Gallion. “We believe the original statement [on the website] was correct.”

Wetzel admits the language on the website was mistaken, but took exception with Gallion claiming DPI “advertised” the inspection claim.

“Is that really going out and proclaiming to the world?” he said of the website language. “This is something that we ask school districts do. That’s what that language is meant to convey. It isn’t to say that we guarantee that 100 percent of the school buses are inspected. We don’t know that to be true. We aren’t going to say something that we don’t know to be true. The Highway Patrol knows whether it’s true or not.”

“I think it’s really unfair for the state Auditor to take a statement from the website that refers to the Highway Department and blow this up as if we’re proclaiming from every street corner that 100 percent of the buses are inspected,” Wetzel continued. “I think it was unfair and I think it was, frankly, false. He never asked us what our response was on this.”

“It was unprofessional,” he added. “It was ridiculous.”

Still, Wetzel acknowledged that the audit did reveal some problems. “The Auditor is correct that there are shortcomings in the inspection program. We are going to work with the Highway Patrol to remedy them,” he said.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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