School bus

An audit has found at least 64 Montana school bus drivers with criminal records.

LARRY MAYER/Gazette Staff

Every school bus driver in Montana must now undergo a criminal background check before getting behind the wheel.

The change, approved by the Board of Public Education on Thursday, was spurred by a legislative audit that found that dozens of drivers had criminal records.

A safety audit conducted last year by the Legislative Audit Committee found at least 64 of the state’s 1,435 drivers who were active during the 2011-12 school year had convictions, including for drunken driving.

Several had been arrested on felony warrants or had multiple convictions, the Associated Press reported last year. One was found to have an active arrest warrant, and another was listed on the state sexual and violent offender registry.

The committee recommended the Office of Public Instruction require background checks for all drivers, among other recommendations.

The state amended the rule to clarify the stipulation in Montana law that school bus drivers be “of good moral character.”

School districts are now required to approve the background checks before a driver’s initial employment, the rule states.

Drivers must also have a safe driving record, as defined by having no more than one moving traffic violation in each of the past three years, no drunken-driving convictions in the last 36 months and no conviction resulting in the suspension of the driver’s license in the previous five years.

Bus drivers in Billings School District 2 are subject to fingerprint-based background checks per district policy.