Pasadena ISD mechanic Andy Castillo and shop supervisor Dave Chinfatt check over a district school bus in preparation for the start of a new school year.
Starting next week, students around the Pasadena ISD will once again roll out of bed at dawn's early light, rub the sleep from their eyes and wobble into a new school year. This week it was the teachers' turn to get reacquainted with their alarm clocks.
But there's another critical component of the education system that also must be shaken from its summer slumbers. Starting this week, the district's fleet of 315 school buses will be roused from weeks of inactivity.
If you thought it was tough to get an 11-year-old back on a school schedule, consider the rooster crow required to stir a 22,000-pound metal behemoth.
Mechanics with the district's Transportation Department will spend most of this week peeking under the hood of every district bus to check fluid levels. Once a bus is properly nourished, a mechanic will turn the key to see if the bus starts.
"There's so much heat in the summer time, it can easily drain a battery," says Jonathan Dow, the district's interim transportation director. "And we got some of our buses in 1990. When a bus gets that old, it gets kind of tired."
When the previous school year ended in June, about a third of the district's buses remained in operation for summer school transportation. A rotation system kept most of the buses busy during the few weeks of summer school. But since mid-July, nearly all of the buses have sat idle at the district's bus compound on Lafferty.
The district's mechanics, however, have stayed business with a schedule of "lower preventive maintenance," which includes everything from the engine to the brakes and tires, to "upper preventive maintenance," which includes things like the interior, lighting and emergency exits.
"Transportation is a 12-month enterprise," Dow said. "In this downtime, it's all about safety. Safety is paramount. We need to make sure it's safe for kids to ride to and from school."
Last year those safe rides add up to nearly 2.5 million miles for Pasadena ISD buses.
Those buses used 553,763 gallons of fuel, about 80 percent of it diesel.
The district purchased 760 new tires, at a cost of $121,379 -- about $160 per tire.
And the district employed 265 bus drivers -- another important group of folks who'll be shaking the summer cobwebs next week.
Fortunately, none of education's human components will require jumper cables.
Just a few sleep-headed school buses.
"By next week," Dow said, "we'll be ready to go."
Jonathan Dow, the district's interim transportation director, looks over the bus fleet at the Lafferty compound.