News from the World of Pupil Transportation

Posted on September 1, 2000

Blue Bird, Ford agree on chassis arrangement

MACON, Ga. — Ford Motor Co. will again supply chassis for conventional school buses under a tentative agreement with Blue Bird Corp. in Macon, Ga. According to Richard Maddox, Blue Bird’s president, the chassis will be designed to his company’s specifications and marketed as an integrated Type C school bus. He added that the vehicle will be offered with Cummins’ diesel engines as standard equipment. Under the terms of the agreement, Ford will supply the chassis for a minimum of five years, with production beginning in the latter part of 2001. Maddox said further details about the agreement with Ford will be released after the deal is finalized. The agreement places in question Blue Bird’s relationship with General Motors, which has exclusively supplied Blue Bird with a Type C chassis for several years. When asked about this relationship, Maddox said simply, “We will continue to work with GM.” But he added, “At some point the [GM] chassis that we currently have will ‘morph’ into another vehicle.” Meanwhile, GM officials said their contract to supply Blue Bird with the B-7 chassis will end in 2003, when a new medium-duty chassis will be introduced. Whether the new chassis will mesh with Blue Bird’s school bus application is unclear.

ASBO's highest honor goes to a school transportation manager

NORTH WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — A school transportation manager who coordinated a busing system among four school districts to transport approximately 300 children to out-of-district schools will receive the highest honor awarded by the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO). Jonathan H. Ross, director of transportation for the Southern Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) in Westchester County, N.Y., will receive the 2000 Pinnacle of Excellence Award on Oct. 3 at ASBO’s annual meeting in Minneapolis. The award recognizes Ross’ efforts to establish and coordinate an innovative pupil transportation program during the 1999-2000 school year. The program, Ross said, was initiated in spring 1999, when the BOCES was retained as a “shared transportation manager” by four small Westchester County school districts (Bronxville, Eastchester, Pelham and Tuckahoe) that were trying to find a more efficient manner of transporting students to out-of-district private, parochial and special-education schools. For the 1998-99 school year, the four districts had 55 contractor routes in place to transport 300 students to 85 out-of-district schools within a 50-mile radius. The 55 routes cost the districts $1.2 million or nearly $4,400 per student per year. Under Ross’ guidance, the BOCES developed a transportation system for the 1999-2000 school year that reduced the number of contract routes from 55 to 30, yielding an estimated savings of $291,000, or 25 percent. In addition, by taking over the coordination of out-of-district transportation, the BOCES was able to eliminate some of the redundancies of effort among the school districts and reduce their management costs by $44,678, a 40 percent decrease. Although Ross was named to receive the award, he said the program’s success was the “result of many people who work with me at the Southern Westchester BOCES.”

Georgia district installs paging system

DECATUR, Ga. — The DeKalb (Ga.) County School Board has approved the installation of paging devices on all 957 school buses in its fleet. The Buspal system, developed by Smartel Labs in Washington, D.C., will offer parents the option of advance notification of the arrival of the bus. Dannie Reed, head of transportation for DeKalb County School System, initiated the project. His support for the proposal was based on its safety implications. “We have a lot of parents who are concerned if they can’t see the bus stop from their house . . so it takes down that fear,” he said. “The parent knows that the child left the house to go to the bus, and it’s a reasonably short time before the bus will arrive.” Originally developed for the special-education market, Buspal has been in use in that context in Coweta County (Ga.) for the past year. Phyllis Dean, special-education routing coordinator for the Coweta County School System, said that there have been no problems with the system, but added, “We did not have an overabundance of parents who purchased them.” Reed anticipates that paging will be more popular in DeKalb County, based on a six-week test that was run at one elementary and one high school. He said that the response had been positive across the board, with older students taking advantage of pagers to avoid missing the bus. “They know to start rocking and rolling when that pager starts going off so they can get themselves there,” he said. Smartel will outfit the DeKalb fleet with transmitters, and parents can purchase pagers for $141 with a $2.50 monthly service charge, or they can rent the devices for $19.95 per year and pay a $6.95 monthly service charge. According to Reed, Smartel will offer reduced fees for low-income students. The school system will not be involved in maintenance or marketing of the system, Reed added.

Doubling of bus fares proposed in Hawaii

HONOLULU — Parents of students in Hawaii may be faced with having to pay 50 cents instead of the current 25 cents (one-way) for school bus fare, if a proposal by the State Department of Education to reduce an estimated $1.5 million deficit is approved by the Board of Education. But before the BOE makes a decision, the issue will be presented at public hearings. The BOE is not expected to act on the proposal until later this year. The increase was proposed as a result of the July 1 transfer of the school bus transportation program from Hawaii’s Department of Accounting and General Services (DAGS) to the DOE. The program has been operating in the red for the past three fiscal years. The fare increase was proposed to cover a wage increase of $1 million to contract drivers, an increase in the number of special-education students and rising fuel costs of $200,000.

Blue Bird recalls 9,600 buses

FORT VALLEY, Ga. — A design problem in the Bendix air brakes in 9,687 school and transit buses manufactured by Blue Bird Body Co. has resulted in a safety recall by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Blue Bird. According to NHTSA’s recall notice, Bendix changed the internal design of the QR1C relay valve by adding a hole in the internal diaphragm. When the hole in the diaphragm aligns with the hole in the valve body, the brake application time increases. Under certain conditions, such as when the vehicle is parked on an incline, this could cause the bus to roll before the parking brake is fully engaged. The following Blue Bird buses (manufactured between October 1997 and May 2000) are being recalled:
All America (1997-2000)
TC2000 (1997-2000)
LTC 40 (1997-2000)
Q-Bus (1997-2000)
Commercial (1997-2000)
Diaphragms with holes will be replaced by solid diaphragms for the QR1C valves. Owner notification began in July. Owners who do not receive the free remedy within a reasonable time should contact Bill Coleman at Blue Bird at 912/822-2242. NHTSA Recall No. 00V162
Blue Bird Recall No. R00DX

Bus radio modification creates silent alarm

BEACHWOOD CITY, Ohio —By modifying one of the unused switches on the two-way radios in its school buses, the Beachwood City (Ohio) School District has created a silent alarm system that allows drivers to secretly notify the dispatcher of an emergency. Once the switch is activated, the transportation office is notified via an audible alert, and the bus number is displayed on the base screen. In addition, the microphone on the bus is switched on for 20 seconds, allowing the transportation office to monitor bus activity, and, if necessary, contact the police. Gavin Berwald, assistant transportation supervisor, said the device could be used by drivers in the event of a hostage situation, a fight among passengers or an assault on the driver. “With the ongoing problem of disrespect from students to drivers, I feel this is a necessity,” Berwald said. Berwald came up with the idea when he noticed several buttons on the Kenwood model radio were not being used. He confirmed with Kenwood that the buttons could be programmed as a silent alarm. Berwald said it takes about an hour per bus to make the modification. “For the small extra cost of labor, this emergency switch could prevent a possible fatality,” Berwald said. Currently, about half of the Beachwood district’s fleet of 25 buses have been outfitted with the new emergency switch. He expected the other buses to be similarly modified before the start of this school year. Berwald said he has not received any negative comments from drivers. In fact, he said several drivers have commented on the timeliness of the device and wondered why a similar idea hadn’t been implemented earlier.

Poster contest goes high-tech

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Students at Monroe Elementary School at Colorado Springs (Colo.) School District 11 attacked this year’s National School Bus Safety Week Poster Contest in a novel way — with computers. The poster contest, held every year with a different school bus safety theme, historically has accepted only hand-drawn submissions. Last year, however, a computer-generated poster division was created as an experiment. At that time, only two states submitted entries, but students at Monroe Elementary may spark additional interest in the computer-generated competition. All 400 Monroe students in first through fifth grades participated in the contest. Preparation included instruction in the computer lab to learn the Clarisworks Painting Tools software. Overall, each student spent six hours on the project. When the posters were finished, they were displayed in hallways throughout the school. Students voted for their favorites, with awards for “most creative,” “best use of software” and “best overall poster.” A panel of district administrators and transportation personnel then made the final selections for entrance into the district’s contest. “The results were beyond expectation,” said Bill Bair, the district’s transportation director. “We had fantastic success. The students and staff were very excited.” Each child received a certificate of participation, and students with winning posters were awarded books from a recent book fair. The awards were paid for by the school district, with support from Superintendent Kenneth Burnley, an advocate of computer technology. The Colorado State Pupil Transportation Association later approved awards for the state division competition. “I hope the excitement of the students that I witnessed in doing these posters will reflect on their conduct on the bus,” said Sue Dean, transportation team leader and school bus safety poster contest coordinator. “Hopefully, the message of school bus safety will be passed on to their siblings.” Added Bair: “We’re hoping that business, industry and the developers of computer software can provide the support to tie school bus safety with information technology and increase the competition in this category at the national level.” The National School Bus Safety Week Poster Contest is sponsored by the National School Transportation Association, the National Association for Pupil Transportation, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, the National Safety Council and various school bus manufacturers and suppliers.

NHTSA to unveil array of training materials

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is continuing efforts to provide the school transportation industry with training and educational resources for managers and drivers. During the Southeastern States Pupil Transportation Conference iin Daytona Beach, Fla., in mid-July, Diane Wigle, a highway safety specialist at NHTSA, presented a list of its upcoming training aids and publications. Safety training modules — NHTSA has developed an original series of seven school bus safety training modules. Two modules — those on driving under adverse weather conditions and transporting students with special needs (with an emphasis on the equipment) — have been pilot tested and should be available by December. Safety restraint systems brochure — A simple brochure on the proper usage of safety seats and vests should be available in early October. How to spec a preschool bus brochure — A new brochure for Head Start and childcare providers is in development. It will include such matters as choosing the right step height, length of seat belts, seat spacing and more. The brochure is anticipated in early 2001. Child safety passenger protection certification — A course is in development to certify child safety passenger protection technicians on school buses. The six- to eight-hour course should be available in March 2001. Community action kit — A “getting to school safely” community action kit is in the works. It will address all methods of home-to-school travel, including walking, bike riding, taking the subway and riding the school bus. The kit will include fact sheets, lists of contacts and resources, an activities book, a calendar and guidelines for setting up a school transportation program. Illegal passing of school buses — A report will be issued next spring analyzing different programs for deterring stop-arm runners nationwide. NHTSA provided funding to selected communities and will analyze the results in each area. Wigle encouraged attendees to contact NHTSA with information on good programs.

Driver inspires students with cash awards

BUENA PARK, Calif. — Using $100 of his own money, a school bus driver in Southern California is motivating his passengers to hit the books. Louis Holguin, who drives for the Buena Park School District, challenges his junior high school passengers to improve their grades during the school year — and rewards the winners with cash. “I would see these kids with no inspiration and lacking motivation,” Holguin said. “And what motivates more than money? As I told my wife, we probably blow more money buying lottery tickets than anything else, and we haven’t won anything back. I bet we could get a better return on these kids than on a lottery ticket.” To keep the students challenged and interested throughout the year, he gives weekly trivia quizzes on current events and local history. The student with the correct answer receives a dollar. As the end of the school year approaches, excitement builds and the students ask Holguin who he thinks is going to win. “I tell them I don’t know,” said Holguin. “I don’t look at their grades. Grades are personal, between them, their parents and their teachers. I work with the vice principal’s office, which keeps me informed.” The students with the most improved grades receive $25, with $15 and $10 rewards given to the runners-up. A driver with three years’ experience, Holguin is modest about his project. “This was just something I felt I could do and was able to do, so why not?” For his service to the community, Holguin was recently honored during a game between the Anaheim Angels and the visiting New York Yankees. He was recognized as the ENERGY STAR of the Game, an award sponsored by a power utility.

The winning ways of 3 roadeo champs

Oakland, Calif. — Winning a school bus roadeo requires steady nerves, practical knowledge and plenty of practice and inspiration. That’s the story of the three winners of the 2000 School Bus Driver International Safety Competition, held in mid-July in Oakland. The annual event is sponsored by the National School Transportation Association and brings together drivers from the United States and Canada. This year’s winners were James L. Roark II (School Board of Seminole County in Florida) in the conventional bus class, Brent Carman (Morgan Hill Unified School District in California) in the transit-style bus class and Lynn White (Stock Transportation in Thornhill, Ontario, Canada) in the small bus class. To prepare for the competition, Roark, White and Carman worked with friends and colleagues. Some of that preparation included practicing the different skill events. Roark said he practiced the course with a fellow driver, William Ralys (who finished third in the conventional bus competition). Whenever they found a problem, they cooperated to get through it, Roark said. When asked how competing improves his skills, he said, “It keeps my skills honed. It builds my confidence as well.” Roark said he views the event as a personal challenge rather than a competition. This perspective was gained the hard way, the result of a setback in 1993. “I had tied with somebody to advance to the state level, and we had a drive off,” he recalled. “I went in there with a big head, thinking, ‘Yeah, I can beat this guy, I can beat this guy.’ He went out and aced the course. I think I left two lamp poles standing.” The next year, his head significantly smaller, Roark decided that he would compete only against himself. “Since then, I’ve placed at state ever since,” he said. Lynn White from Ontario, Canada, winner of the small bus competition, practiced in a course set up by colleagues. For her, practice was the key to the competition. When asked what the competition helped her improve, she replied, “You definitely learn the limits of your bus, like what you can get through and what you can’t.” Carman, the winner in the transit class, said his success in roadeos was not immediate. “If you look at my record when I first started doing this back around ’88, I went for four years and never won a trophy.” But Carman kept at it and has since won several competitions. He attributes much of his success to working with his team, which includes Raul Suarez and Adolph Valles, on the different events. “Just in recent years, we’ve really started to progress as a team and individually,” Carman said. “We won California’s Northern Sectional team competition four years in a row, and we barely missed winning again this year. Our goal is to come back and win it again next year.” Carman attributed his drive to win to the influence of a good friend named Jerry Miller, whom he worked with at a previous job. “I used to refer to him as my dad because we got along really well,” he said. Miller, who died in 1995, told Carman that he would one day win the national competition. “The main reason I’ve been going to these competitions all these years is because he told me that when I got there, I’d win it, and I did, in his memory,” Carman said.

Videos provide useful, timely information

Two new training videos — “School Bus Held Hostage” and “Car Seats on School Buses” — address concerns of public and private school bus operators around the country. The hostage video, produced by Strategies Training Systems in Seattle, focuses on strategies that drivers can use to avoid hostage situations as well as techniques for dealing with hostage situations should they occur. The 23-minute video is complemented by a presenter’s manual that suggests skill rehearsal exercises for drivers. Some of the techniques taught in the video include active listening (which helps to establish rapport with the captor and can de-escalate the situation), self-control and conflict avoidance. The video points out that nearly 90 percent of all hostage situations are resolved through communication. “The key is to reduce levels of confrontation and open up the possibility of a peaceful resolution,” the narrator says. The video also discusses tactics that drivers should consider during a hostage situation, such as parking the bus near a building or a group of trees (so police can approach the vehicle without being seen) and covertly keying open the microphone so the transportation office can listen in. Although it’s rare that school buses are taken hostage, it has happened. This video is an excellent training resource to prepare drivers to handle a hostage crisis and to help prevent it from happening. To order a copy of the training package, call Strategies Training Systems at 800/600-5636. “Car Seats on School Buses” was developed by Hunterdon Central/ Flemington Raritan Joint Transportation in Flemington, N.J., with funding from the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety. This 20-minute video provides good, basic information on how to safely transport children in car seats on school buses as well as insights from parents of children who ride in car seats. This transportation process is made difficult by the fact that car seats are not designed for school buses and vice versa. As Linda Yenzer, transportation director at the Hunterdon Central/Flemington Raritan school district puts it, “As the name suggests, it’s a car seat, not a bus seat.” The video covers fundamentals such as ensuring that the bus is properly spec’d for transporting car seats, matching the car seat to the child, using the appropriate restraint system and properly securing the car seat. Also covered in the video is the importance of transportation’s role in the Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting. “Car Seats on School Buses” can be ordered through the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute by calling 800/836-2210. The cost is $65, including shipping and handling.

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