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October 01, 1999  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Great Fleets Across America, Part 2


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WASHINGTON
Edmonds School District
Edmonds, Wash.

Edmonds School District, transporting 10,000 students daily in five cities north of Seattle, prides itself on being employee-oriented. And it shows. The district commits $50,000 a year to in-service training, which includes interactive learning activities, motivational speakers and employee rewards. “We try to put an emphasis on our people,” says Reg Clarke, program director. All drivers are provided with name placards to hang in their buses and are paid for attending school open house and orientation nights to meet parents. Drivers personally call parents when problems arise with students, something many districts do not trust their drivers to do. “If you can’t trust them to do that, then maybe they shouldn’t be driving a school bus,” says Clarke, who believes that the way to get the best employees is to instill in them a sense of responsibility. “I want somebody who will love, discipline, teach and ensure the safety of the children on our buses,” he says. His drivers regularly volunteer their time at local community events and have also won an “Excellence in Education” award from Western Washington University for the safety play they personally wrote, directed and performed. In a program that continues to be a success with kids K-3, drivers don animal costumes and sing and dance about school bus safety. Clarke expects his entire transportation staff to become involved with students and to ride a bus or greet buses at schools for two hours a month to “remind them that they’re working for kids.” Like drivers, mechanics in Edmonds take on more responsibility than in many other districts. They each maintain a set of approximately 30 of the 147 district buses, which includes inputting information into the computers and communicating with drivers. In assuming responsibility for specific vehicles, says Clarke, the mechanics take more pride in their work and the drivers know who to turn to when they need help. Clarke trusts and supports his staff and is rarely disappointed. He says it all comes down to treating employees like human beings, rather than numbers.

WEST VIRGINIA
Kanawha County Schools
Charleston, W.V.

Kanawha County Schools does what few other school districts can do — offer its drivers a regular 40-hour work week. Drivers have the option of working a regular schedule of eight hours per day or selecting a flex-time arrangement that allows them to schedule 40 hours based on their availability. “Drivers like it, the schools like it,” says George Beckett, administrative assistant for pupil transportation. He says this system bolsters the department’s safety program and saves the district thousands of dollars. Beckett says the department offers ongoing safety training one day a month, which can help to fill in the drivers’ hours. In addition, the flex-time arrangement “allows us to provide field trips without having to provide extra driver costs. The school pays only for mileage,” he says. Only recently has a driver shortage surfaced at the district. Previously, the department had more than its share of drivers due to dwindling enrollment and a switch to a three-tiered bell system. Since 1976, the district has seen its fleet shrink from 219 to 150 school buses. Currently, the district transports about 20,200 students to 65 school sites. To deal with the driver shortage, the district has begun offering incentives to recruits. First, evening training classes have been added to the schedule to accommodate applicants with 9-to-5 jobs. In addition, the district has agreed to start paying recruits to attend training. Ruth Hatfield — a national roadeo champion in the conventional class in 1982 — runs the training and safety program. “She is excellent,” says Beckett. Maintenance of the fleet’s 150 buses is performed at five terminals. Beckett says the ordering and distribution of parts was centralized recently to improve efficiency. The transportation department also offers student outreach. Transportation teams from each terminal visit schools to provide safety training. The district is hitting the elementary schools the hardest by using Buster the Bus to demonstrate safety. “The kids love it,” says Beckett.

WISCONSIN
Dousman Transport Inc.
Kettle-Moraine, Wis.

Magda Dimmendaal, owner of Dousman Transport Co., says she hasn’t even advertised for drivers this year. Given her company’s paltry 5 percent turnover rate, that’s not surprising. What is surprising, however, is that she credits building administrators with helping her retain drivers. “They realize that busing is not a four-letter word,” says Dimmendaal. Principals and other site administrators have consistently supported her drivers on passenger discipline issues. And supporting the drivers is critical. “Pamper them, pamper them and pamper them” is Dimmendaal’s advice on keeping drivers behind the wheel. Dimmendaal bought the company, headquartered about 35 miles west of Milwaukee, more than 10 years ago and has more than doubled its size. She now operates 107 school buses for three school districts — Kettle Moraine, Arrowhead Area and Mukwonago. Each district is served from a separate terminal. Four mechanics at two maintenance facilities handle the upkeep of the equipment. Though the ratio of buses to mechanics is high at 26 to 1, Dimmendaal says nearly half of her fleet is less than 3 years old. Dimmendaal says she’s a firm believer in safety, but admits that she doesn’t hold monthly safety meetings. “We don’t hold meetings for the sake of holding meetings,” she explains. She prefers to hold them when necessary, especially if she can schedule an interesting speaker. Before the start of the school year, Dimmendaal tries to arrange for a motivational speaker to address the drivers. These speakers, she says, can be expensive, so she sometimes splits the cost with other school bus companies in the area. The company’s insurance carrier occasionally helps to pay the speaker costs as well. “The insurance company realizes that if you have happy drivers, you also have safe drivers,” Dimmendaal says.

WYOMING
Fremont County School District #25
Riverton, Wyo.

“I’m always happy to be of help to people in the state,” says Otto Uecker, who oversees the Riverton district’s fleet of 31 school buses, which transport 950 students to eight schools daily. Uecker believes that his organization has a unique system of transferring students. “We pick up all of our students in our rural routes, bring them into a central transfer area; then one to three buses goes to each school to deliver students.” In all, 22 buses come into the transfer area. The organization has been able to reduce the number of routes each bus runs, leading to a more efficient operation. Before Uecker's tenure, the district used to take each bus out to the routes twice a day. Uecker also mentions that there are many organizations around Wyoming , such as the Wyoming Pupil Transportation Association, that have been of great help to him as he worked to improve the operation. He says, “There were no records kept at this facility when I started this program, so all of our maintenance practices, our driver forms and practices, and driver training were all developed when I began here.” Uecker says he is never afraid to try new things and that he works, “Not just for [this district], but statewide.” Uecker works with a 30-person, mostly part-time staff. (Only he and two mechanics work full time.) He says that they don't have a lot of turnover because they are able to pay about twice as much per hour as the employees would receive at a fast-food restaurant or clerking at a retail store. Recent improvements to the operations are upgrades to the drivers’ lounge, maintenance shop and grounds, including the transfer area. They have upgraded the fleet, which is composed of 27 forward-control transit-style buses and four special-education buses. Driver benefits and wages have also improved recently.

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