In looking back over my two years as president of the National School Transportation Association (NSTA), I'm reminded of the Ervin Drake song "It Was a Very Good Year," made famous by Frank Sinatra. With apologies to Mr. Drake (and Mr. Sinatra, should I begin singing), I'd like to share my memories of the very good years.
When I was first in office
It was a very good year for continuing the partnership-building that my predecessor, Dale Krapf, had begun. Through the ongoing efforts of the NSTA, National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) and the industry's three major bus manufacturers, the leadership of the school bus industry eventually coalesced into the American School Bus Council (ASBC), the one-voice representative that we had envisioned just a year or two before. The fact that a dozen or so opinionated, strong-willed people with differing agendas can hammer out agreement on so many issues for the good of the industry still amazes me.
It was also a good year for NSTA's government relations efforts. I am particularly proud of the work we did on the Charter Bus Negotiated Rulemaking Advisory Committee, and not just because I was able to hold my temper most of the time. Through two years of meetings with the Federal Transit Administration and transit interests, NSTA and the Private Sector Coalition parried a serious threat from public transit agencies to erode restrictions on school activity trips. There is still some work to do, but 80 percent of the decisions have been made, and most of them went our way. This is a real victory for contractors — one none of us should take lightly.
When I was at mid-term
It was a very good year for NSTA members, as we rolled out new membership benefits. One of my goals was to bring added value to our members and new revenues to the association through non-dues marketing, and we were successful in securing a discounted parts program, which is now entering its second iteration. We also offer new programs for the purchase of tires and insurance, which are helping our members to offset some of the increased costs we all have suffered in the past three years.
It was a very good year for school bus safety, as Congress passed a resolution recognizing National School Bus Safety Week and honoring our industry. NSTA, joined by NAPT and NASDPTS, led the effort to win that long-overdue recognition.
It was a good year for ASBC as well. We hired Burson-Marsteller, a top public relations firm, to create the ASBC brand and to develop a campaign to increase school bus ridership. One of the most visible results was our Valentine's Day campaign, "Love the Bus," which brought much-needed attention to our drivers.
And now the days grow short
I left the presidency of NSTA knowing how much we still have to accomplish — and trusting that we will do it. As I pass the gavel, our government relations team is working at full steam. I don't believe we have ever been so actively engaged in so many different legislative and regulatory areas: school bus security, emissions control, fuel costs, seat belts, transit, congestion mitigation — the list goes on. And what's exciting is that maybe — just maybe — we are on the way to gaining federal financial support for school bus operations.
There are new challenges as well, ones that my successor, Barry Stock, will handle with grace. Attacks on privatization and outsourcing threaten our industry, and we in the private sector must come together to protect our businesses and the value we provide to our school district customers. We may be facing our greatest test, but I am confident that NSTA will provide the leadership, the courage and the expertise to deflect these attacks and emerge with a private school bus industry stronger and more productive than ever. And I'll be right there on the sidelines, cheering Barry on.