Latasha Signil of Southwest Philadelphia is driving her children to school today.

They're not going to have to stand in sub-freezing temperatures at 52nd Street and Kingsessing Avenue and wait for the school bus, which is often late.

And they won't have to take a chance on being stranded for three hours on a broken-down, unheated bus - with the windows icing up - on the coldest day of the year.

At 7:35 a.m. yesterday, when the bus picked up her daughter, Vikera Wilkins, and son, Aikiem Maxie, both 9, the temperature was 10 degrees and the wind chill was minus-7.

The bus broke down at 19th and Dickinson streets in South Philadelphia about 8:15 a.m. School officials attributed the problem to "mechanical difficulties," Signil said.

If Aikiem hadn't had a cell phone, Signil wouldn't have found out about it as soon as she did. As it was, he didn't call her until shortly after 11 a.m.

"I asked him why he didn't call sooner. He said the driver kept telling him another bus would be there in five minutes," Signil said.

"If I had known what was going on, I would have flown down there," she added. "They told me they don't want to go to school on the bus tomorrow. I told them I'd take them myself."

When he finally called, Aikiem said he was at another - but warm - school, but he didn't know which one.

One of the 23 pupils on the bus had called 911 and police went to the bus and took them to a school two blocks away.

Meanwhile, Signil went looking for her children. She eventually tracked them down and found them in the auditorium of the Smith School, at 19th and Wharton streets.

About 12:30 p.m., Signil took her children to their own school, Folk Art Charter, and they picked up their homework.

Then it was home for dinner, homework, a warm bath and bed.

The bus was owned by Atlantic Express Bus Co. School and bus officials couldn't be reached for comment. *