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January 01, 2007  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Great Fleets Across America 2007

To further recognize the invaluable service provided by the nation’s pupil transportation programs, we present the seventh installment of our “Great Fleets” series. Find out how this year’s 10 outstanding operations have raised the bar in safety, efficiency, maintenance and other areas.


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A cohesive atmosphere marks the transportation department at Durant Independent School District.

 

Going Beyond the Usual

Durant Independent School District
Durant, Okla.

Durant Independent School District’s transportation department has a much larger charter than just moving its own students to and from school and activity trips. “We’re a small school district, but we don’t have to think small,” says Transportation Director Billy Whittenburg.

Using 34 school buses, it transports 1,250 students daily to the district’s seven schools, but it also provides a host of services to other school districts and organizations in southeastern Oklahoma.

For example, it transports hundreds of high school students from several local school districts to Southeastern Oklahoma State University, where they take courses to prepare for the rigors of college. “When they graduate high school, the hope is that they will go on to college,” he says. “You can chase your dreams if you can get an education.”

Eight years ago, Whittenburg set up a program to transport children to licensed daycare operators. “If they’re in a daycare program, I’ll transport them to wherever they are,” he says. The daycare operator is charged a flat fee for the transportation service. These days he transports 250 daycare riders to 14 centers.

Because the closest motorcoach charter company is 90 miles away, the district also provides charter services during the summer to church groups and summer camps. This allows the district to provide bus drivers with summer work and to generate some additional revenue. “My logic is that we have $2 million worth of buses sitting idle in the summer,” Whittenburg says. “It’s better to keep them running.”

Durant’s buses also serve another critical function: emergency evacuation. It’s department policy that drivers have to report to work in the event of a disaster. “We have used our buses to evacuate nursing homes and apartment complexes in a tornado,” he says. “We’re the only organization within a two-hour drive that has the resources to move large numbers of people.”

The bus garage, staffed by two technicians and three assistants, also extends its services beyond district boundaries. It maintains buses for other school districts, as well as private schools and non-profit organizations. It also services the 26 Head Start buses operated by the Choctaw Nation, which is headquartered in Durant.

Whittenburg, who started as a district bus driver 29 years ago, divides his fleet into two branches — route and activity. The older buses in the fleet are used for route service and the newer for activity trips. Of the 34 buses in the fleet, 10 are dedicated activity buses and are equipped with air conditioning, a necessity on long trips in the sometimes-blazing Oklahoma sun.

When buses reach the end of their useful life, they are not sold. “We dismantle the buses and take those old parts,” Whittenburg says. “It’s a pretty good system. I haven’t bought any new lenses in six years.”

Although turnover is high, morale in the transportation department is good. “This is a college town, so a lot of our drivers are college students,” Whittenburg explains. “When they graduate, they go on to bigger and better things.” The operation is small enough that he can act as director, dispatcher and payroll supervisor. He also helps to maintain a cohesive atmosphere. “Everybody comes to work together and we don’t leave until the last driver is back,” he says. “We don’t have a union, but we are united.”

— STEVE HIRANO

Fleet Facts
Buses: 34
Students transported daily: 1,250
Schools served: 7
Total students in district: 3,300
Area of service: 45 square miles
Average driver wage: $10.30/hour


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