Michael Dallessandro is transportation director at Niagara Wheatfield Central School District in Niagara Falls, N.Y.
I’ve been hearing a growing number of comments from school transportation managers that their superintendents or board of education members have questioned their “bedside manner” — also known as communication skills — while managing personnel matters, handling parent phone calls or making public presentations.
I have a simple answer: People will like you when you give them what they want.
The coach will love you when you allow him to load the interior of the bus from floor to ceiling with unsecured athletic equipment, coolers and other gear.
The drivers will love you when you allow them to skip that boring pre-trip inspection when it is pouring rain outside.
Parents want the bus stop in front of their house? Simply move it for them!
Of course, I am using these fictional references to make a point. Transportation managers cannot simply give away the farm, because appropriate boundaries are a vital part of the safety and efficiency chain in our business.
Most of the time, a school transportation manager who is doing his or her job correctly is the gatekeeper and has to be the person who says “no” more than “yes.” And — let’s face it — there is no popular way to say “no.”
Adding to that, societal changes are creating a new generation of aggressive, in-your-face people who refuse to accept “no” for an answer, and you, the transportation manager, are standing squarely in the way of their happiness.
School transportation systems work properly when the rules that are in place to ensure safety are followed to the letter. As you read the various pupil transportation safety regulations, you can almost always link a law back to a high-profile accident, loss of life or other incident that prompted the creation of that particular law.
The key to gaining support for compliance for these regulations is having references available when speaking with drivers or parents about the situation at hand.
When faced with a decision, managers must look at the overall impact on a particular workforce, district or neighborhood, and many of the people we interact with are only thinking about their specific need or issue at that moment.
Managers often run into trouble and are accused of “not being receptive” to an individual’s needs simply because we are trying to equitably uphold a school transportation policy or law for the benefit of all stakeholders.
Sadly, when some employees or citizens do not get their way, they accuse the manager of being rude, difficult or incompetent. Hopefully, your lead administrators and board members provide support and the benefit of the doubt to the people who make the transportation system work every day.
School transportation managers in 2012 are walking a very fine line, trying to meet the needs of parents, students, labor unions, administrators, boards of education and enforcement agencies — while also dealing with an ever-shrinking budget.
Transportation managers cannot possibly meet the needs of every one of those stakeholders at all times, and we and our bosses must accept that some of them may be unhappy from time to time. District leaders have to recognize the immense responsibility that transportation managers have and the difficulty we face in trying to balance stakeholder needs and input.
Superintendents and boards of education must look at their transportation managers as a valuable resource and a “messenger” for all things positive, legal and ethical regarding the business of pupil transportation.
Don’t shoot the messenger!
Michael Dallessandro is transportation director at Niagara Wheatfield Central School District in Niagara Falls, N.Y. He is the author of numerous articles and an editorial advisory board member for SCHOOL BUS FLEET. He welcomes comments and feedback at MPDBUS1@aol.com.