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West takes care of school buses

By By LYDIA GRIMES Feature Reporter
Bill West is an humble man and seems surprised that anyone would want to read about him in a profile. But when one considers that he is the person who makes sure that the school buses in Escambia County deliver their precious cargo everyday, it should not come as any surprise to anyone.
West has worked for the county school system for the past 16 years, first as a mechanic and now as the transportation supervisor for the Escambia County School System. It is his job to make sure that the school buses are in good condition and ready to roll every school day throughout the year. He is responsible for 38 buses that carry students to and from W.S. Neal, Flomaton and Pollard-McCall schools.
It is not an easy job. There are two mechanics working at the bus barn and everyday brings its own problems. A school bus costs $52,000, and the state of Alabama says that they must be replaced every 10 years. That means that around three buses a year are retired while three more new ones come in to take their place. It is a regular rotation to make sure that kids are not transported in a bus that is not in the best of condition.
School buses are not like they were in years past. In years gone by they were used for school functions along with many other events in the communities they served. Today they are used only for the purpose of transporting students to and from school each day as well as for special trips planned by the school system such as band trips, sports events and field trips. All school buses are equipped with cameras, not just a token few, and even though they are not air conditioned, steps are taken to make them cooler. Most of the new buses being phased into the system are equipped with white roofs making them eight to 10 degrees cooler than the all yellow buses. They do have one bus that is air conditioned and it is used for special needs students. It is the only one equipped with seat belts.
Making it a law to buckle up in a seat belt for automobiles has raised questions about the need for them in school buses. West said that question has been addressed and studies have been made to determine the feasibility of putting them on the buses.
Not only have buses changed, but so have the drivers. Today's drivers are mostly women who want part time work or have other jobs and want to supplement their income. There are only two male drivers with the system this year.
Drivers all are instructed in driving the buses and have to attend classes to be certified. After they are driving, they still have to take a refresher class each year. They undergo a background check and must pass all road tests.
Buses are inspected every month by the county and once a year someone comes down from the Alabama State Department of Transportation to inspect them.
West grew up in Pensacola and graduated from Pensacola High School. He said he was an average student and played trumpet in the band. He got a job while he was in high school pumping gas at a local services station. He was the oldest child of the family and has one brother and two sisters.
After he graduated from high school, he went to vocational training for mechanics and began working at Hill-Kelly Dodge. He worked there until the mid-1970s until he was divorced from his first wife and moved to Brewton. By this time he had three daughters, Lindy, Kim and Shon. He chose to move to Brewton because of relatives who lived here, and he began working with Cleve Roberson Trucking as a mechanic.
When a job at the bus barn opened in 1988, he went to work there as a mechanic. He was married again and had a son, William. After three years of working as a mechanic, his present job came open and he applied. He became the superintendent in 1991. He was divorced and then married in 2000 to his present wife, Priscilla West.