While term-limited after 10 years of board service, fortunately Tarleton will remain active within NAPT. He's an encyclopedia of knowledge of federal, state and local policies affecting the industry, and a go-to guy for common sense advice.
Considering the many issues facing the industry, we asked Tarleton about the biggest challenges he sees.
Not surprisingly, he pointed to "budgets" as the biggie. "Transportation administrators will be called on to go way beyond the line of duty, to do more and offer more services with less budget," he said. "There is something about school finance where everyone thinks that districts can take on more responsibility with fewer resources.
"We're going to have to do a better job marketing our products," Tarleton added. "By that I mean be able to provide good, solid data about what we do. Entities like NAPT must provide cutting edge information to help members survive during difficult budget times."
He also singled out bullying as a continuing concern. "School districts are going to have to provide more training for their employees. Drivers and bus aides must be more proactive, identifying situations to prevent things from happening to innocent kids."
He applauded NAPT's efforts to raise awareness about bullying. "NAPT has been the only one in the industry to take a giant step in this arena, and able to get the U.S. Department of Education to recognize the challenges school bus drivers and systems face.
"NAPT received a lot of criticism from some quarters for showcasing this controversial topic at its annual conference in Portland [2010 NAPT Annual Summit]," Tarleton noted. "But by doing so in a prominent way, we forced the transportation world to view bullying from a different perspective. That's leadership, and how you bring about positive improvements."
NAPT Executive Director Mike Martin laments Tarleton's departure from the board. "Willie is one of the most competent, dedicated and reliable people I've ever met. He never asks for anything for himself; he wants whatever is best for the group or team as a whole.
"Moreover, he's trustworthy and will stand in the breach, ready, willing and able to do the things that make the biggest difference whenever necessary," Martin added.
We salute Willie Tarleton. Not just a sharp dressed man — a major contributor to the reputation and achievements of yellow transportation, and still "in the breach," ready to contribute even more.
Barry McCahill is president of McCahill Communications Inc. and NAPT public affairs consultant.