Sweetwater district officials are investigating why a school bus was seen dropping off non-students at a local dental office.
District officials were alerted to the unauthorized trip by NBC 7 Investigates team.
Stewart Payne, an Eastlake Middle parent and outspoken critic of the district, snapped photos Friday morning of a Sweetwater bus making a drop-off at the Chula Vista Smiles dental office on K Street.
An adult, a young adult and a small child exited the bus, Payne said. He says he observed them having several minutes of conversation with the bus driver from the sidewalk, and then walking into the pediatric dental offices.
Chief Facilities Director Thomas Calhoun said the district is taking the issue very seriously.
“This is not something that we take lightly,” Calhoun said. “Obviously, our resources are important. Because of state problems with funding for our schools, transportation has taken a big hit – about $1 million over the last year. So, we’re doing a lot more with less and we need to do that with the public faith behind us.”
Calhoun said no students were involved in the trip to the dentist’s office.
Payne said he’s concerned that Sweetwater could face potential insurance liabilities if bus drivers are transporting passengers that are not students.
“It’s dangerous,” Payne said. “We’ve got buses available and they should be transporting kids, not whoever was on this bus.”
The district recently shaved about $800,000 from its $8 million transportation budget by cutting 13 bus routes, which angered some parents.
“That’s why it caught my attention,” Payne said.
The bus was about 6 miles away from its last drop off when the pictures were snapped the district said.
Calhoun said after the trip was brought to the district’s attention by NBC 7 Investigates team, officials reviewed data from the GPS sensors equipped on Sweetwater buses to determine the bus was parked outside the dental office for about 5 minutes when it should have been back at the bus hanger on L Street.
Payne said he thinks the district’s problems start at the top.
“They have a significant budget problem, and they cut buses to address that budget problem, but the real issue here is poor decision making,” Payne said.