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October 05, 2010  |   Comments (1)   |   Post a comment

What's New in the Top 100?

Recent developments related to six of this year's largest school district fleets in the nation.


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Salem-Keizer's Patrick McLaughlin demonstrates maneuvers required in school bus driver competitions. To watch the video, go to www.schoolbusfleet.com/videos.

Salem-Keizer earns accolades, hones policies

The past year was an eventful one at Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Salem, Ore., with a number of certifications and recognitions achieved and new policies developed.

The district’s business services division attained ISO 9001 certification, and fleet maintenance was recertified as an environmentally friendly shop under the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s stringent standards.

One of the district’s school bus drivers, Patrick McLaughlin, was the overall winner of the Oregon Pupil Transportation Association Safety Exercise. (To watch a video of McLaughlin demonstrating maneuvers required in such competitions, go to www.schoolbusfleet.com/videos.)

The district’s transportation department and the Association of Salem-Keizer Education Support Professionals union partnered in training 35 people in Stephen M.R. Covey’s The Speed of Trust, and 29 of the 35 participated in a year-long book study in preparation for the training.

“The results of the trust-building and relationships bore fruit during the process of taking dramatic reductions in dollars in the department — over $1 million in reductions,” said Michael Shields, the district’s director of transportation.

Three of Salem-Keizer’s mechanics attained ASE’s school bus master technician status. And head mechanic David Farley represented Oregon at the National Congress on School Transportation in May. Farley, a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard, was serving as a battalion commander and received special leave to attend the congress.

The Salem-Keizer transportation department recently began rewriting board policies and procedures for transportation, and it launched new guidelines through a cooperative effort with employee teams. The department was also tasked by the superintendent to reevaluate all bell schedules and service levels in the district for 2011-12, when new schools will be opening.

In conjunction with the district’s risk management department, city police and traffic engineers, the transportation department developed a process for assessing school traffic and parking and loading zones, as well as issues and criteria for student safety patrol and adult crossing guards.

Also, the routing team worked with the special-education and technology departments to develop a new electronic process with specific work instructions, responsibilities and timelines to improve efficiencies and promptness to better serve students.


Anoka-Hennepin drops $200 bus rider fee

The Anoka-Hennepin School District has eliminated its $200 bus rider fee for students who live between one and two miles from school for the 2010-11 school year.

The Coon Rapids, Minn.-based district instituted the fee in 2002 as a way to raise revenue in the midst of more than $10 million in budget reductions.

District officials gave two reasons for the decision to drop the fee. The first is that a demographic change is underway in the district — in 10 years, the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch has doubled. In 1999, it was 16.5 percent; in 2009, it was 30.7 percent.

Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches pay a reduced bus fee or no fee depending on their level of qualification. As more students qualify, the district must provide transportation to them, but it collects less revenue from fees. If this trend continues, district officials reasoned, fees eventually become irrelevant because so few students pay the full fee.

The second reason for eliminating the fee is that the district’s transportation department has worked closely with its contracted bus companies and negotiated no increase in the annual contract for this school year (the second freeze in as many years).

With no increase in expenses, the district can restore bus service to its pre-2002 levels and eliminate most adult crossing guard positions. The positions are not needed because buses will transport students across roads that are considered hazardous. This reduction, plus eliminating the cost of collecting fees, offsets the loss of the fee revenue.

“Economically, it makes sense,” said Keith Paulson, Anoka-Hennepin School District’s director of transportation. “But it makes the most sense to transport more students safely on buses — that’s what elimination of the fees really allows us to do.”


Douglas County launches per-ride bus fee system

Douglas County School District in Castle Rock recently became the first district in Colorado to charge a fee for bus service.

Interestingly, the fee is based on usage rather than being a flat price. The district is using Zonar’s ZPass system to track students on and off the bus and to charge 50 cents per ride.

“The safety and security provided by Z-Pass make the implementation well worth the money for the system,” said Paul Balon, the district’s director of transportation.

Beyond the security benefits, the program is expected to raise about $2 million, which would offset a substantial portion of the district’s $17-million budget for transportation.

“In the last two years, we have cut $2.4 million and $1.9 million from the transportation operational budget,” Balon notes.

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