News from the World of Pupil Transportation

Posted on November 1, 2000

Spartan pulls plug on Carpenter Industries

RICHMOND, Ind. — Carpenter Industries Inc. announced in early October that it will close its doors after fulfilling its existing backlog of orders. Carpenter’s parent company, Spartan Motors in Charlotte, Mich., said the company has not fared well against larger and better-financed competitors in the school bus industry. “Despite our efforts to support Carpenter with financial resources and operating expertise, we believe there are too many hurdles to make this a sustainable business,” said George Sztykiel, chairman and CEO of Spartan Motors. “Carpenter has been a painful and costly experience for Spartan, particularly given my personal commitment to turning around this business.” Spartan acquired majority control of Carpenter in November 1998, but was unable to generate gross profit margins to sustain the company’s operation. For the quarter that ended June 30, Spartan officials reported a $771,000 loss at Carpenter. It was Carpenter's smallest quarterly loss since Spartan acquired a majority interest in the company. The management consulting firm of BBK Ltd. of Chicago has been retained to oversee the liquidation of the business. Persons interested in acquiring a portion or all of Carpenter's assets are encouraged to contact BBK at (630) 990-9000.

Drivers contribute motivational strategies

DENVER — In an ongoing effort to motivate students and promote discipline on the bus, drivers at Denver Public Schools are compiling their inspirational ideas in a booklet of best practices called “Positive Ways to Engage Kids on Your Bus.” The practices outlined in the booklet will eventually become the standard for all of the district’s drivers. “We are trying to get a message across that says everyone has a role in making sure that young people succeed,” said Patsy Roybal, educational consultant for Assets for Colorado Youth, a Denver-based non-profit organization collaborating on the booklet with the Denver Public Schools. “We thought it would be great if we put our resources together, compiling suggestions and sharing this with other bus drivers.” In the booklet, drivers recommend simple communication strategies, such as greeting students cheerfully, asking them about their homework and soliciting their opinions on matters that concern them. Other strategies recommended include game-playing, attending special school events, having a picture of the driver’s family onboard and working closely with teachers and principals. With some routes lasting as long as an hour and a half, a few bus drivers have resorted to even more creative methods of teaching and entertaining their passengers. “The kids can hardly wait to get on the Singing Bus Driver’s bus,” said Michael Simmons, community specialist for the district.

Student takes keys from drunken bus driver

SMITHVILLE, Texas — A high school freshman took control of his school bus when he suspected that the driver was intoxicated. The driver’s blood alcohol content was later determined to be well in excess of the legal limit of .08. “The students are reporting that the driver was handling the bus erratically, weaving, not coming to complete stops at stop signs, passing up turns and having to back up to make the turns,” said Smithville Independent School District Superintendent John Thornell. According to Thornell, the onboard video shows students behaving normally and seeming not to notice any problem with the driver, Sandra Dee Mikula. One student, Colby Graham, looked concerned and eventually moved to the front of the bus, where he talked to Mikula for more than a half an hour. When she left the bus to assist other passengers, Graham pulled the emergency airbrake, shut off the ignition and put the keys in his pocket. He then told the remaining passengers to get off the bus. Another high school student gathered the younger kids and walked them to their homes from the stop. There were approximately 36 kindergarten through high school students on the bus. Mikula had worked for the district for eight years, during which time she passed random drug tests and maintained a clean driving record. “There wasn’t anything on there [her record] that would prevent her from being qualified to drive,” said Thornell. After failing a breathalyzer test, Mikula was terminated by the district. She has been charged with child endangerment and driving while intoxicated. The drunken-driving charge is a misdemeanor and could bring up to six months in jail and a fine of $2,000. The child endangerment charge carries a punishment of up to two years in jail and a fine of $10,000. At press time, it was unclear if criminal charges would be filed by the families of the children involved.

Enrollment peaks in 2000-01 and will head higher

A record 53 million children (from prekindergarten through 12th grade) are attending public and private schools this year, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). That’s an increase of approximately 200,000 over 1999 figures. NCES researchers expect enrollment to remain steady through 2010 and then to increase steadily for the rest of the century. By 2100, they expect enrollment of school-age children to reach 94 million, about 41 million more children than in 2000. Recent growth in enrollment is partially attributed to the “baby boom echo,” which began in the middle 1970s when the children of baby-boomers began to have children. Also contributing strongly to the increasing number of schoolchildren is the boom in immigration over the past two decades. Meanwhile, another spike in the birth rate, tagged the “milleni-boom,” is expected to begin in 2010. Researchers expect this boom to create a 6 percent hike in enrollment between 2010 and 2020.

Students volunteer as bus monitors

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. — School bus drivers for Dattco Inc., which contracts with New Britain Public Schools, received support on their buses from more than 50 high school volunteers this fall. The students were fulfilling a community service requirement by spending 20 hours on the bus as monitors. “The difficulty for drivers the first few weeks of school is that they’re so busy they can’t double check on who gets off at what stop, especially with the smaller children,” explained Dr. Jim Rhinesmith, superintendent for the district. Having high school students ride kindergarten through fifth-grade routes helped remove some of the burden from the drivers, while at the same time enabling the students to fulfill their volunteer requirement. As an added benefit, it opened the older students’ eyes to challenges bus drivers face. “The kids didn’t realize how difficult it is to drive a bus and keep order and deal with these little children. It wasn’t as easy as they thought,” said Rhinesmith. The students who participated in the pilot bus monitor program spent two hours every day after school on buses transporting elementary students. Their sole duty was to ensure that all students got off at the right stop. To do so, they were supplied with a list of student names for each route. At each stop, the volunteer monitor would read the names of the students to disembark, walk them to the door, bring them to their parents and reboard the bus. Many students who participated told Rhinesmith they felt they had been of benefit and that they enjoyed helping the younger students, many of whom were riding the bus for the first time. Phillip Johnson, director of operations for Dattco Inc., said the drivers appreciated the assistance and considered the project a success. “This turned out to be a great idea. The students did a fantastic job,” he said. The students were all very responsible, and many took away from the experience as much as they put into it, said Johnson. “A lot of the students said it was worth while and some said they would never be a bus driver.” The volunteer service requirement has been in effect at New Britain Public Schools for four years. High school students must complete 20 hours of volunteer work of their choice in a single high school year. Many choose to work as candy stripers at New Britain hospital or as assistants at local convalescent homes. This was the first year that the bus monitor program was offered and Rhinesmith says it was a big success. “I believe we’ll be doing it again next year. It helped out the high school students and it also helped out the school district,” he said.

Should allergy medications be off-limits to drivers?

A recent study in a medical journal indicated that people who took allergy medications containing antihistamines suffered greater driving impairment than those who consumed alcohol. Should school bus drivers be allowed to drive while under the influence of antihistamines? That’s the question posed in The Forums at this Website ( Here are some of the responses: Document any medicine used
I would guess that there are tens of thousands of us bus drivers who take allergy medications, or any type of medications for that matter, that contain antihistamines. If taking them doesn't impair our ability to drive, then we should be allowed to perform our job. It's really a call only we and our bosses can make. I've taken various medications for years, and only once have I had to call in and say I was too woozy to drive. If you are taking any kind of medication, you should document it for your supervisor. Have your physician write you a note. That way, if you are scheduled for a random drug test, you will have proof of what meds you're on. This has happened to me once, and the only thing that happened was that I had to report for another drug test after I finished taking the medication. Mary R. Becker, Driver
Westerly (R.I.) School Department
Exercise extreme caution
I read something about this recently. I believe the report stated that it was safe for a driver to take Allegra because there is no substance in it to affect a driver with a "drunken" feeling. Let’s face it folks — you can’t put a price on the cargo we carry. I believe we should all be responsible. If there were an accident, you would be required to take a drug test. How would it turn out? Would you lose your job for being under the influence? Could you be killed or kill a student or teacher? How would you live with yourself if you lived but 50 kids were killed? How would you feel if you could avoid the situation by taking something that didn’t inhibit your driving abilities, but chose not to? We all face our own demons in life. That’s not one I ever want to face. So if you have allergies, which most of us do, my recommendation is that you check with a pharmacy to see what is safe. More times than not, pharmacists know more then doctors do. Folks, we transport priceless cargo. Anytime the druggist has to put a label on a prescription that states — “May cause drowsiness. do not operate heavy equipment/machinery” — we need to exercise extreme caution. I myself do not take any of these types of medication before going on duty. There are enough risks out there as it is. We do not need to add to the problem. Terry Butler, relief driver
Laramie County School District #1
Cheyenne, Wyo.
Take a non-impairing drug
Sorry if I step on anyone's toes, but not only am I a bus driver, I'm a mother to three of those “precious cargoes.” I feel the same as most do — if a medication is going to impair an individual then that person has a great responsibility to tell his/her dispatcher and not go out on the road. I know that may be hard but that's the way it is. There are many non-drowsy formulas on the market and if you're a school bus driver or someone operating machines in a high-risk job, you have to make sacrifices. The less effective drug for a more effective driver. If that doesn't work, maybe you're in the wrong work environment. Tina M. Maidens, Driver
Scholastic Bus Corp.
Oneonta (N.Y.) City Schools
Rely on a doctor’s judgment
I think the decision should be up to the driver’s doctor, regardless of how many years the individual has been driving. If allergy medication can influence their decision making, then they should not be the one to decide if they should drive. Just like a drunk person will argue that he/she is fine to drive, how can a person (on any medication) drive these children without first making sure their doctor says that it is ok? Jennifer Marcou, driver
Staunton City (Va.) Public Schools
Use a non-drowsy formula
This seems to be a no-brainer. Almost every over the counter allergy medication made comes in a “non-drowsy” formula. Granted, these might not be as effective as those that contain high amounts of antihistamines, but they do offer relief and allow the person taking them to operate machinery safely. Bill Ryan, safety director
Dufour Inc.
Hinsdale, Mass.

Children’s book takes wild ride on a school bus

TORRANCE, Calif. — The School Bus Driver from the Black Lagoon, a children’s book recently published by Scholastic Inc. in New York, takes a tongue-in-cheek peek at the fertile imagination of a boy who’s heard frightening rumors about his new school bus driver. In the book written by Mike Thaler and illustrated by Jared Lee, the boy hears rumors that his new bus driver is a maniac named T. Rex Fenderbender, who, among other things, lets his guide dog pilot the bus, races trains down the tracks, drives on the sidewalk (“where you’re less likely to hit another car”) and forces his passengers to pay for the fuel. The book’s narrative and artwork are so riotously fantastic that few, if any, children would mistake the boy’s wacky imaginings for the actual behavior of a bus driver. The “Black Lagoon” series also includes The Teacher from the Black Lagoon, The Principal from the Black Lagoon and The Cafeteria Worker from the Black Lagoon


Speeding common in school zones

A survey by the National SAFE KIDS Campaign estimates that nearly two-thirds of motorists exceed the speed limit in school zones. Nearly a quarter of the motorists were exceeding the speed limit by more than 10 mph. The study analyzed driving patterns in 63 school zones in 29 cities last month. According to SAFE KIDS, pedestrian-related incidents are the second-leading cause of injury-related fatalities among children 5 to 14.

How to obtain tax-free fuel and tires

CLINTONVILLE, Wis. — A single-bus operator looking to buy new tires for his bus, John Shepard made the pleasant discovery that he qualified for a school bus use tax exemption. “Instead of paying $300 each, I paid about $225 each, for better quality tires than usual,” he said. And the good news didn’t stop there. He also discovered that he qualified for fuel tax exemption on his school bus. To obtain the exemptions, Shepard filed the required forms with the Internal Revenue Service. Based on Shepard’s experience and advice from IRS Excise Tax Specialist Michael Tindall, we’ve compiled the following guidelines for obtaining exemption from excise taxes on tires and fuel. Study the regulations and call your local IRS excise tax agent with any questions. Publications and contact information are available online at or by telephone at (800) 829-3676. Forms are also available for copying at most public libraries. Fuel tax exemptions — All school buses are exempt from excise taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel. A school bus is defined here as a vehicle that provides transportation of students to a non-profit, tax-exempt educational organization with a regular faculty and an enrolled body of students. Buses serving public schools — Owners of buses used to transport students to a state school (a public school) do not need to apply for registration to purchase diesel fuel free of excise taxes. The person who files, instead, is the retailer who has been issued a UV registration by the IRS. The UV registration allows the retailer to sell the fuel without taxes and to file a claim to get the taxes back. Owners of buses transporting students to public schools need to find a retailer that holds a UV registration. The seller of the tax-free fuel must receive an exemption certificate from the buyer, which states that the buyer is who he claims to be and that he is entitled to buy fuel tax-free. Publication 378 gives a prototype exemption certificate that may be used as a model by retailers. A retailer selling gasoline, as opposed to diesel fuel, does not need to have a UV registration, but the retailer must be a wholesaler of gasoline. If not, then the purchaser of the gasoline must file the claim on Form 8849 with a minimum claim of $750, or on Form 4136 at the end of the year. Buses serving private schools — If a school bus is used to transport students to a private school, the purchaser must pay the excise tax on the gasoline or diesel fuel when buying at the pump, and file for reimbursement later. The fuel cannot be purchased tax-free because it is not being used by state or local government. The purchaser will file Form 8849 for reimbursement at the end of the quarter, if he has purchased a minimum of $750 worth of fuel. If the total fuel consumption is below $750, the purchaser must hold his claim until the total amount exceeds $750. He may choose to wait and file at the end of the year, by attaching Form 4136 to his year-end tax return. Other uses — If a school bus is used for other purposes in addition to transporting students to an educational facility (transporting community groups, etc.), only the fuel used to transport students can be used tax-free. Detailed records must be maintained, including a log of miles, a record of activities and a calculation of fuel used. The tax on the “other” fuel used must be paid on Form 720. Tire exemptions — All owners of school buses (publicly or privately owned, serving public or private schools) must complete Form 637 to apply for an “I” registration to purchase tires excise tax free from a tire manufacturer. After issuance of the registration, the holder of the registration presents the registration certificate to the manufacturer/seller of the tires, giving the seller authority to sell without collecting taxes.

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