Oklahoma speech contest tackles school bus safety
School bus safety will be the topic of a speech contest developed for Oklahoma high school students. They’ll have the chance to show off their knowledge and public speaking skills while competing for $3,500 in college scholarships. The inaugural School Bus Safety Speech Contest will be open to high school juniors and seniors. The state winner, runners-up and regional winners will be rewarded with scholarships. Randy McLerran, director of pupil transportation for Oklahoma’s Department of Education, helped to create the contest. “It occurred to me that there were activities and contests for younger kids, but high school students had been overlooked,” McLerran said. “We wanted to get them involved, and give them an extrinsic, monetary reward in the form of a scholarship.” He expects “broad participation” in the contest. The speeches will be judged by a representative of the Oklahoma Association for Pupil Transportation for content and accuracy and by two speech and drama teachers for context and presentation. Regional contests will be held in September. The winners will advance to the state competition, which will be held during National School Bus Safety Week, Oct. 17-23. The state champion will present the winning speech at the National Association for Pupil Transportation’s 1999 conference in Denver in early November. The $3,500 in scholarship money will be provided by Around the Clock Freightliner Group Inc., Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp., Midwest Bus Sales and Service, Southern Plains Cummins Engines, T&W Tires and Michelin of North America. For more information on the contest, call Randy McLerran at 405/521-3472.
Teens invent safety device for buses
Four middle school students in Dayton, Ohio, received a $25,000 grant from the Bayer Corp. and the National Science Foundation (NSF) for their plan to improve school bus safety. Lisa Bales, Julie Craig, Tony Liao and Alexis Liebst — eighth-graders at Hadley E. Watts Middle School — called their idea “Bus Door Bust.” Their proposal is to replace the rubber door linings of school buses with bristles, which would allow straps, hooks and other items to pass through easily, reducing the chance of a child getting injured. The students came up with the idea after a local teenager, Brandie Sue Browder, was killed when her jacket drawstring became stuck in the school bus door. The driver, unaware that Browder’s clothing had been caught, drove off, dragging her to her death. The four students wanted to come up with a plan to prevent such tragedies from occurring again. They competed for the Bayer/NSF Award for the 1998-99 school year, along with nearly 2,000 other students. The team from Dayton won the $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant, which rewards ideas that may become a reality in the community in the following year. “With the help of the Columbus Grant, we will be working with the Department of Pupil Transportation for the Ohio Department of Education to pursue our idea,” said Julie Craig. “We think the bristles are a practical, inexpensive way to save lives.”
Stock Transportation enters U.S. market
Stock Transportation, one of the leading school bus contractors in Canada, has entered the U.S. market by winning contracts at three school districts. The company, based in Aurora, Ontario, converted Keller (Texas) Independent School District and bid successfully for contracts at Albany (N.Y.) School District and Kansas City (Mo.) School District. All three negotiations involved RFPs (request for proposals) rather than lowest qualified bids. Keller, which operates approximately 55 buses, privatized its transportation system because of ongoing problems finding drivers. “We were 14 or 15 drivers short,” said Charles Bradberry, the district superintendent. “They were just not available.” Bradberry said several school bus companies were considered for the contract, but the district chose Stock because it had a similar “belief system.” In particular, he said Stock was “very supportive” of its employees. Stock captured a five-year contract worth $2 million, about $200,000 less than the school district estimated its own costs over the next five years. In Albany, Stock won a five-year contract to operate 114 buses (including spares). The district opted to consolidate its operations, having used nine contractors and now relying only on Stock. Joseph Verrigni, transportation director at Albany School District, said Stock was the lowest bidder among the eight or nine competitors, but added that “price wasn’t the bottom line.” Verrigni said he was especially impressed with Stock’s driver training program. “It’s over and above what’s required,” he said. “I think that’s a great way of doing business.” Stock’s third U.S. contract involves operating 116 buses at the Kansas City (Mo.) School District. Barry Stock, senior vice president at Stock Transportation, said the company has been slow and cautious in expanding into the United States. (Stock operates approximately 1,650 school buses in Canada.) The strategy now is to have “implementation managers” hire and train local employees to manage the business. “It was key for us to find locations that were looking for a change and that fit our way of doing business,” Stock said.
Postage stamp campaign not licked yet
New York state lawmakers are officially requesting that a U.S. postage stamp feature the yellow school bus. Their resolution comes on the 60th anniversary of the standardized school bus, whose “founding father,” Dr. Frank Cyr, initiated a movement for the stamp 10 years ago. The resolution for the 50th anniversary stamp failed, and Cyr is not alive today to witness this small victory. His mission is kept alive, however, by friends and neighbors in Stamford, N.Y., who wish to see this symbol of safety and efficiency memorialized. Harry and Joan Dorr were among the friends who initiated the campaign with Cyr in 1989. Since her husband’s death, Joan Dorr has continued the mission, which is now sponsored by state Sen. James L. Seward and Assemblyman Cliff Crouch. “Jim’s enthusiasm is rather contagious,” says Dorr. “He is so sure he’s going to be able to do something with this.” Though things are progressing positively, there are still obstacles. Namely, the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee for the U.S. Postal Service, which approves only 25 of 2,500 commemorative stamp requests each year. Because the process can take years from start to finish, anniversary stamp requests should be submitted well ahead of time. It is for this reason that Dorr wishes this stamp to be issued simply to commemorate the yellow school bus and not to honor its anniversary, which may be well in the past when the stamp is finally printed. Dorr questions why some other stamps have been issued when this one has not. According to the Postal Service and the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, the stamp must be “historically important and of widespread national appeal and significance.” Why, she wonders, have seashells and the Slinky been given the stamp of approval? Copies of the resolution, which was approved by both houses, have been sent to New York’s U.S. representatives on Capitol Hill, the Postmaster General and the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee.
This school bus driver encourages her young passengers to tell tall tales
School bus drivers know that children are apt to tell stories, but few encourage the practice. A bus driver in Springville, N.Y., is a notable exception, and she has other drivers following her lead. For the past two years, Irene Lockwood has allowed her passengers to read from their favorite books once the bus has arrived at school. For five or 10 minutes, until school doors open, students read aloud to their peers from books such as Clifford and Hop on Pop. Lockwood, a 15-year bus driver for the Springville-Griffith School District, says the 20 to 25 children on her bus love to hear the stories and try to avoid any delays in getting to school — especially stops for disciplinary problems. Lockwood said there were no major behavioral problems with the children before, but now she rarely has to discipline them and feels that the bus is safer because of it. “The kids listen,” Lockwood said. “When I say something, they do it. They know that I care about them. I feel like I am part of a team, not part of the equipment.” Fond memories of her daughter’s love of books prompted Lockwood to initiate the program. She said the first book she brought on the bus was The Monster at the End of This Book. It was a big hit. “All of the kids were enthralled,” Lockwood said. “They loved it.” After hearing Lockwood read stories of her selection, the children, in kindergarten through fifth grade, began bringing their own books and reading to each other. “The best part is watching the kids take an interest in reading and watching them grow in reading,” Lockwood said. “They want to get to school early to read.” Lockwood has received only positive feedback on her reading program, including a certificate from the superintendent. Two other bus drivers in the district have since instituted the reading program. “The program shows a lot of ingenuity and dedication to the kids,” said William Loockerman, the district’s business administrator. “I consider [Irene] one of the really outstanding individuals, not just as a bus driver, but as an employee. Her program puts a very good mark on bus drivers besides being someone behind the wheel.” This summer, Lockwood is trying to develop a children’s library at the bus garage to encourage more drivers to get involved with the program.
Tribe will pay $4.5 million to settle lawsuit
A Native American tribe in Washington state will pay the federal government $4.5 million to settle a whistleblower lawsuit that alleged falsification of school bus mileage records. According to the Tacoma Columbian newspaper, the Puyallup Indian Tribe was accused by a former school transportation director of falsifying school bus mileage records in order to receive extra aid from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The $4.5 million sum is based on excess payments, plus interest, to Chief Leschi School during the school years 1993-94 through 1997-98. The civil lawsuit listed methods in which the mileage records were allegedly falsified — buses were put on blocks with engines running and wheels rotating to run up odometer readings; route books were falsified; and drivers drove empty buses to outlying counties to boost odometer readings. The investigation was conducted by the U.S Justice Department, the Interior Department and the FBI.