Here’s what The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com found upon examination of 2013-2015 data of the state’s school bus safety inspections.
Two reporters were named finalists for a prestigious journalism award for their work at The Arizona Republic in exposing the rising rate of dangerous defects in Arizona’s fleet of school buses.
Ricardo Cano has covered education for The Republic since summer 2015. Caitlin McGlade worked at The Republic from 2013 until September 2016 and now covers education for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
They spent a year finding and analyzing more than 7,500 pages of bus-inspection reports to produce their series Failed: Arizona School Bus Safety.
Their reporting found that almost three out of every 10 school buses failed state safety inspections in 2015 because of a “major defect,” a number that had almost doubled since 2013.
This week, they were named finalists in the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists for excellence in local reporting, an award that has been called “a Pulitzer Prize for the young.”
Exposing unsafe conditions for kids
“We had heard that the state lacked the oversight to ensure that Arizona school-bus fleets were safe — and that many were poorly maintained. But no one had analyzed bus-inspection failures, calculated failure rates by district or offered to parents an accessible method to see inspection records,” McGlade said.
So she and Cano collected every bus-inspection report with a failing grade for a major defect and created a database, later adding more data from records of every inspected bus.
They sorted by license-plate number to find repeat offenders, and used data on bonds and transportation spending per district to pinpoint the districts that fared the worst.
The investigation included a searchable database that allowed parents to find out if their kids’ buses were safe, and videos showing the rural, unpaved roads that beat up school buses.
“Ultimately, we revealed a problem many parents had never thought about,” McGlade said.
The series was powerful: After the newspaper showed its findings to Gov. Doug Ducey, the state Department of Public Safety said it received an immediate request from the governor to determine how the state could do better.
Later, Arizona schools Superintendent Diane Douglas proposed spending millions to provide new buses for schools. Her report directly cited the series.
“Our children’s lives are precious and their safety is of the utmost importance,” Douglas wrote. “For too long, we have been neglecting proper transportation support to rural districts that face unique challenges caused by rough roads, unsafe school buses and bus driver vacancies.”
Nicole Carroll, editor and vice president/news of The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com, said, “RIcardo and Caitlin’s superb work proved, in painstaking detail, that the state’s children were not as safe as they should expect to be in going to and from school. That’s something most people never would have known without this reporting.
“Their work drew immediate attention to a serious problem, and public officials took note.”
View the series at failed.azcentral.com.
Honoring journalists under 35
The Livingston Awards for Young Journalists and the University of Michigan announced the 2017 finalists in local, national and international reporting on Tuesday.
The awards honor journalists younger than 35 and are the largest all-media general-reporting prize in American journalism, according to livawards.org.
Cano is 24 and McGlade is 28.
Judges include CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour and New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet.
Three winners will be announced June 6 at a luncheon in New York City, where they will receive $10,000 each.
Cano said, “I’m honored to see my name included among so many great journalists from across the country and thankful for my editors on the project, Stuart Warner and Daniel González, whose guidance was invaluable. I’m lucky I get to work alongside some of the best journalists here at The Republic.”
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