CALCUTTA - Beaver Local School students are accustomed to two-hour delays, but they usually occur on mornings when there's snow or it's very cold.
Tuesday, it was the discovery of seven school buses, each with a slashed front tire, that caused the start of school to be delayed by two hours.
According to Superintendent Kent Polen, a mechanic with the district's bus garage noticed the damage at about 5:40 a.m., while preparing the buses for their morning rounds.
The windows in two of the buses were also damaged, with cracks found in the panes of the door on one bus and in the right windshield pane of another. Both were also replaced with parts from another bus prior to being dispatched.
Polen said the vehicles are kept in an outdoor lot surrounded by chain-link fence and a gate that is locked at night. There are no cameras or other security devices in the area, though Polen says such measures are now under consideration. No signs of forced entry into the lot were found.
While the district has been criticized for calling delays too close to the start of the school day, Polen feels that the circumstances warranted the action. "When you get the call that late, and buses start to roll out shortly after six o'clock, you have to make some quick decisions on what you're going to do," he said. After discovering the damage to the first few buses, he says each of the district's other buses had to be thoroughly inspected before declaring them safe to transport students.
The delay was enough time for district personnel to remove wheels from buses not currently in use and install them on the crippled vehicles. Polen commended the mechanics for their quick action in completing inspections and making the necessary repairs and thanked the bus drivers for their assistance in getting the work completed within the window of the delay. "Two hours after they found them, they had them ready to go," he said.
Polen said the last incidence of bus vandalism in the district was eight years ago. County-wide, however, it is the second time this year that buses have suffered similar damage. Twelve United Local school buses were crippled by slashed tires the morning of Jan. 25, which also resulted in a two-hour delay.
The tires for the buses cost approximately $300 each. Combined with the replacement glass, Polen estimates damage of close to $5,000. A report was filed with the Columbiana County Sheriff's Department, which is investigating.
This was the second incidence of damage in the district since last week, when four holes were discovered in the glass front doors of Beaver Local High School and an adjoining window prior to the start of classes Feb. 25.
A school custodian discovered the holes, as well as a BB pellet in the hall. The shooting incident is also under investigation from the Sheriff's Department.
BLHS Principal Tom Cunningham said the angle of the shots, which left a trio of small gouges in the hallway ceiling tiles, suggests that they were shot from state Route 7, which passes in front of the building.
Neither Polen nor Cunningham said they have any suspects in mind for either incident, with no threatening messages or other warning received by school or district officials.
"We're looking at steps to increase security not only [in the bus yard], but around the whole school system, to make sure that everybody is safe," Polen said. Cunningham did voice his hope for the installation of security cameras for the school's exterior doors. "It would help us out tremendously," he said.