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Fired bus driver may return

A state arbitrator has ruled that local school bus driver Ruth Joy Anderson may have her job back after being fired last year for not reporting an accident.

School District Personnel Director Donna Hill announced the ruling at a recent school board meeting. Anderson had driven a school bus for 21 years before her firing last June. .

The arbitrator ruled that while the school district had "just cause to discipline" her, the firing should change to an "unpaid suspension."

Before Anderson can get her job back this fall, she must take and pass, at her own expense, the knowledge/skills test for a commercial driver's license. Further traffic violations, on or off duty, would give the district cause to fire her.

Last May Anderson was driving two four-year-olds and on her way to pick up a third. They were to be dropped off at Rocky Branch Elementary School for an early childhood program for "special needs" students.

Anderson was eastbound on County Road M between Meadows Drive and Liberty Road when she claimed a dog ran in her path. She swerved and braked.

Her spinning bus crossed the center line, hit a mailbox and ended in a residential driveway on the opposite side. Her buckled-up passengers were unharmed.

Anderson allegedly didn't radio the accident, as required by school district policy, but continued on her route. There were eyewitnesses to the accident, which is how it got reported.

In closed session last June, the school board, acting on Superintendent Tom Westerhaus' recommendation, voted unanimously to fire Anderson. At the time Westerhaus said an investigation showed the cause for Anderson leaving the road with her bus was "disputed."

The bus driver's union appealed that firing. An arbitration hearing was held Sept. 15 in River Falls. The arbitrator's ruling came March 8.

When she was fired last year, Anderson was making $18.44 per hour and had no history of reckless driving or speeding.

Brett Pickerign, who represented Anderson for the West Central Education Association, said Tuesday that Anderson does intend to go through the steps to reclaim her old job.

"She's happy to go back. She likes her job and wants to continue working," Pickerign said.

Hill said that the school district share of the costs, from attorney, arbitrator and filing fees, to paying an accident reconstruction expert, total roughly $20,000.