School bus concerns? Call the bumper number

Rick Wagner • Jan 8, 2018 at 9:30 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Tommy Tutone might never have had a hit with a song called “Jenny” in 1982  if the number in the chorus was 712-0788.

But some local bus contractors recently took blowtorches to their vehicles to meet the requirements of a new Tennessee law requiring that number, not Jenny’s 867-5309, to be emblazoned on the bumpers of every public school bus operating in the Volunteer State.

Come Monday, barring inclement weather schedule changes, Sullivan County Schools buses owned by the school system and those operated by private contractors will roll with the following message on their bumpers: “Comments 423-712-0788.”

“Some of them had to take a blowtorch to the bumpers because they were too cold (for the message) to stick,” Sullivan County Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said, holding up a bumper transfer decal to the school board during a work session Thursday evening.

The board is to approve the revamped Policy 3.400 “Student Transportation Management” at its Monday night meeting, but the requirements are ready to be met that morning.

“Monday morning when our buses are on the road, we will be in compliance with everything here (in the new law).”


For Kingsport City Schools, the bus bumper messages to be applied Monday morning before school is set to resume Tuesday will say: “Comments or Concerns 423-398-1780.”

KCS Transportation Supervisor Tommy Starnes said the plan was to apply the messages, generated by the city’s sign shop, to 44 KCS buses over the Christmas break. However, he said pretty much everybody was off the week of Christmas and it was too cold the week of Jan. 1. 

“They’re not going on until Monday,” Starnes said.

He said three or four mechanics will put the lettering on the bumpers that day, when temperatures are to warm up above freezing.


This is all part of a new law that went into effect statewide Jan. 1. The increased oversight, enacted by the General Assembly, was sparked by a crash in Chattanooga that killed six children in 2016. Aside from requiring local school agencies to have transportation supervisors and bumper comment numbers, the law also requires new school bus drivers to complete a training program and be at least 25.

The law requires the transportation supervisor, who is Billy Miller in Sullivan County, to accomplish the following:

1. Start the investigation of a bus complaint within 24 hours of its receipt.

Rafalowski said that will be helped along with the complaint number, which will go directly to a free Google phone account that will record the call and provide call information so it can be printed out.  Starnes said KCS and systems across the state also are using a free Google number.

2. Provide the director of schools or superintendent a preliminary report within 48 hours.

3. Provide the director of schools or superintendent a final report within 60 days.


“I think we’ve done a good job in addressing complaints for many years,” said Rafalowski, a central office veteran who once was over transportation.

Sullivan County, Kingsport and most local school systems have had transportation supervisors for years. Starnes said the same held true for KCS.

Asked by board member Mark Ireson what happened if a complaint came in on Friday afternoon and a preliminary report had to be done within 48 hours, Rafalowski said Friday afternoon calls are among the most common ones and that she’s been involved with complaint responses that kept folks in the central office until 7 p.m. or later.

In Sullivan County’s case, the supervisors oversee bus contractors who provide the bulk of the bus service for the system as well as a smaller fleet of smaller buses used for special education students. Kingsport City Schools owns and operates all its own buses, as does Hawkins County Schools.

No matter who operates the bus, if it transports public school students after Jan. 1, it must have a comment number on the bumper.


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