News from the World of Pupil Transportation

Posted on August 1, 2001

Pennsylvania bus operators fined for drug/alcohol violations

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Nine Pennsylvania school bus operators and three drivers have been fined by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for not abiding by federal drug and alcohol regulations.

The charges against the operators include knowingly using drivers who have tested positive for drugs or alcohol, using drivers without proper pre-employment screening and not following proper procedures for random drug testing. The alleged violations were uncovered in a series of special investigations conducted by the Pennsylvania division of the FMCSA.

Of the 35 investigations conducted by the division, 12 resulted in civil charges and fines. Each of the three individuals charged with violations was fined $500, whereas fines against school districts and contractors ranged from $2,000 to more than $14,000. According to federal regulations, the operators and drivers have the right to contest the charges against them.

School bus contracting company W. L. Roenigk Inc. in Sarver, Pa., was fined $7,070 for not having performed a return-to-service drug test on a driver who was sent to a substance abuse professional (SAP) following a positive random drug test. "After he finished the program, the SAP gave us the OK for him to return to work," said Bill Roenigk Jr., president of the company. However, the SAP failed to administer the necessary return-to-work drug test, and Roenigk was fined for the oversight.

Upon explaining his case to the DOT, Roenigk's fine was reduced, but not eliminated. He has since changed drug testing companies and brushed up on the testing requirements. "We take drug testing very seriously. But this fine makes it look like we don't care, which is extremely false," said Roenigk.

Suzanne Vanover, information services coordinator for the West Shore School District in New Cumberland, Pa., said that her district was charged $7,050 for not keeping proper records on pre-employment drug testing for five drivers. "We didn't become aware of the problem until the inspector visited here, but the school district has no plans to contest the fine," she said. "We need to be more diligent in our record keeping and make sure that the records are more retrievable."


Heimlich maneuver is second nature to driver

MONROE, Mich. -- Every 10 years or so, school bus driver Linda Zeitz saves a child from choking to death on a piece of candy.

Zeitz, a 22-year driver for Monroe Public Schools, performed her latest heroics during her afternoon run, when 8-year-old Gabrielle Goodnight began choking on a jawbreaker candy. "The students on the bus began hollering that Gaby was choking on an Atomic Fireball," Zeitz said. "She was turning red and clawing at her throat."

Zeitz pulled the bus to the side of the road and called for Gaby to come to her. "I was scared," she admitted. "I wasn't sure I could dislodge it." Having learned the Heimlich maneuver several years earlier, Zeitz wrapped her arms around Gaby's torso and squeezed. When that failed, she squeezed harder. "I was afraid that I had hurt her," she said.

The second effort popped the candy from Gaby's throat into her mouth. The youngster displayed the confection, clenched between her teeth, and headed back to her seat, but Zeitz intervened. "I had her spit it out in the trash," she said.

About a decade ago, Zeitz saved a middle-school boy's life when he began choking on a butterscotch treat. "Once every 10 years it seems to happen," she said.


Drivers take part in violence preparedness training

CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. -- Drivers and other school transportation professionals joined forces with police, doctors and other school personnel to perform violence preparedness drills on the campus of Prairie Ridge High School.

In one of the exercises, a mock gunman took hostages and forced them into a school bus. A SWAT team reacted by setting off smoke bombs and storming the vehicle.

The transportation department's participation in the exercises was the brainchild of Richard Hansen, director of transportation for School Districts 47 and 155. "We have been questioned by our drivers occasionally about what they should do if a child brings a weapon on the bus. I was struggling to find appropriate law enforcement speakers on the subject," explained Hansen. It was then that he received a call from the local police department, looking for volunteers to role-play during SWAT team exercises on a district campus. "I told them that I would pay the drivers to go and that I would really like to see a school bus scenario played out," he said.

Drivers who participated in the exercises said they believe it's important to know what to do if a gun or a bomb appears on the bus. "My biggest responsibility is to those students. This makes me a little more aware of what's going on," noted participating driver Michele Frank. "We are in the boonies, but it could happen here. It could happen anywhere."


IMMI crash tests new SafeGuard system

INDIANAPOLIS -- Officials of Westfield, Ind.-based IMMI (formerly Indiana Mills and Mfg. Inc.) crash-tested their SafeGuard occupant restraint seating system at the International Child Passenger Safety Technical Conference.

SafeGuard is a school bus seat equipped with a three-point belt system that has been designed to meet the federal standard for compartmentalization (FMVSS 222). Seat testing at the conference involved equipping a full-size school bus with SafeGuard seats, filling the bus with belted and unbelted test dummies and crashing the vehicle into a barrier. IMMI also conducted a rollover impact test, using a rollover test machine. In developing the product, IMMI engineers also conducted sled, ride and durability testing and met with parents, safety advocates, legislators, manufacturers and school transportation administrators to discuss safety and design issues.

According to Julie King, marketing director at IMMI, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will be doing compliance testing on the seat this month, and school districts should be able to order the seats this fall for use in 2002.


Open house highlights emergency response

EL RENO, Okla. -- Nearly 200 pupil transportation professionals from across Oklahoma received a first-hand look at emergency response to a school bus accident during an open house at Midwest Bus Sales Inc. in El Reno.

The open house covered several aspects of emergency response. State highway patrol representatives discussed bus evacuation procedures, while hospital officials demonstrated how emergency workers conduct triage at an accident site. Local firefighters also played a role, demonstrating how to cut a 71-passenger bus in half to extricate passengers and setting a bus on fire.

David Tinsley, sales manager for Midwest, said the dealership's annual open house is intended to provide transportation managers with information that will make their jobs easier and their operations safer.

Mark Lebsack, transportation director at Putnam City Public Schools in Oklahoma City, said this year's program was one of the best. "David took it to another level," he said. The burning bus demonstration was especially impressive. "We all had an idea of how fast a bus would burn, but it was frightening. The bus was filled with black smoke in 30 seconds," Lebsack said.


PTSI launches roadeo Website

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- The Pupil Transportation Safety Institute (PTSI) has unveiled a new Website dedicated to supporting continued growth of local and state special-needs roadeos around the nation.

The site highlights the PTSI-sponsored National Special Needs Team Safety Roadeo (NSNTSR), while offering roadeo results, news, sponsor listings and contact information. It also provides free downloads describing how to organize and operate a special-needs roadeo.

The downloads consist of documents explaining how to plan a roadeo and register it with the PTSI. There are also forms with past roadeo test samples, student biographies and methods of scoring roadeos. There is a listing of sponsors with links to the home pages of PTSI's various sponsor companies. The site also has a state-by-state breakdown of roadeo news and events across the country. Additionally, users can view the Advisory Committee for next year's NSNTSR and contact PTSI.

PTSI officials are confident that the Website will bring attention to the growing challenge of transporting special-needs students. "We're getting great response to the site. The prospect for the site galvanizing this whole movement is exciting," said Mark Hartman-Souder, PTSI's director of development and marketing.

By promoting its 2002 edition of the NSNTSR, and others modeled after it, PTSI hopes the site will serve as an educational tool for the pupil transportation industry. The NSNTSR, which is held annually in conjunction with the National Conference on Transporting Students with Disabilities, supports the drivers, trainers and supervisors who are working to provide safe and efficient access to education for children with special needs. PTSI's Roadeo Website is located at


'Cool School Bus Salute' campaign promotes recognition of industry

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota arm of First Student Inc. recently wrapped up its Cool School Bus Salute program and is enjoying unexpected rewards. A resounding success, the program was developed to help First Student deal with low driver morale, aid in recruiting efforts, increase safety awareness, improve public perception of the school bus industry and reinforce good rider behavior.

Joyce Rhoades, regional safety manager for First Student, noted that the company, like many others, spent money on advertising and recruiting efforts. But she still felt it could do more to address the issues of public awareness, driver recognition, and industry image. "The question then became how can we use the media and the money we spend on the media to help us with these issues?" said Rhoades.

Working in conjunction with Radio Disney, KDWB, KKMS, and AT&T Broadband, First Student launched the Cool School Bus Salute, a nine-week program in which Minnesota residents were encouraged to nominate exemplary drivers and passengers for recognition in several categories. Categories focused on issues such as a driver's relationship with students, the cleanliness of the school bus and exemplary student behavior.

First Student recruited industry officials to judge entries and awarded one salute per week for a total of nine winners. Prizes included gift certificates for drivers and goody bags for students. Local papers reported the winners. "Parents and schools took advantage of this unique opportunity to say thank you to drivers," said Rhoades.

Drivers also enjoyed the program, saying it was beneficial in educating the public about the important role they play in children's lives. Winner Juedi Lapowski-Alexander of Golden Valley, Minn., felt honored by the public recognition. "I view it as an inspiration to help drivers do their job well," she said.


NSTA honors high achievers

The National School Transportation Association (NSTA), which represents the contractor sector of the industry, recognized several of its members for outstanding achievement at its 37th annual convention, which was held July 8-11 in Philadelphia.

Winners of the Golden Merit Award, which recognizes excellence of service, safety and outstanding demonstration of community responsibility, included the following people:

Ed Beck, vice president of Beck Bus Transportation Corp. in Mt. Vernon, Ill.
Dorothy Haines, division field trainer for Durham Transportation's Texas division.
Elmer Johnson Jr. of Sunrise Transportation in Chicago.
Henry J. Kaufman, operations manager at Laidlaw Education Services in Hicksville, N.Y.
Floyd D. Palmer, president of Palmer Bus Service in St. Clair, Minn.
Joyce Sharpe, general manager of Durham Transportation's operation in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Meanwhile, the Distinguished Service Award, recognizing school bus contractors for substantial and special contributions to pupil transportation, went to Terry Thomas, president of Community Bus Service in Youngstown, Ohio.

Three members received the Hall of Fame Award, which is given to individuals who have made a long-term contribution to pupil transportation on the local, state and national levels:

Ray A. Leibensperger, president of Leibensperger Transportation Sales Inc. in Macungie, Pa.
Bill Loshbough, adviser to Helweg and Farmer Transportation Co. in Albuquerque, N.M.
(Leibensperger and Loshbough were recognized for their roles in organizing the International School Bus Driver Safety Competition, held each year in conjunction with the NSTA convention.)
Richard Owens (May 24, 1940 - Feb. 27, 2001), who helped to pioneer special-needs transportation. Until selling his operation in 1991, he owned Owens Motor Coach Inc., a school bus company in Pittsburgh.

The 2001 Thomas Built Buses Inc. Continuing Education and Professional Growth Grant was announced during the meeting. The winner was Christopher Hammell, who is the fourth generation of his family to be involved in Village Bus Co. in Lafayette, N.J.

Finally, Phillip Paige, president of Paige Bus Enterprises in Riverdale, Ill., was named SCHOOL BUS FLEET's Contractor of the Year for 2001. For more coverage of that award, see the "Contractor of the Year" feature in this issue.


How they got here...

GARY MARX is director of transportation and driver education at Township High School District 211 in Palatine, Ill. The district transports 9,300 students on a fleet of 135 buses.

How did you get your start in school transportation?
In 1973, I was a driver's education teacher and a coach. I applied for the position of assistant director because it was interesting and it would get me out of the hot driver's education car in the summer.

What is the first thing you do when you arrive in your office each day?
Our drivers drive out of five different sites in the morning. So I start at one of the sites each day at 6 a.m. and meet and greet the drivers.

What is the last thing you do before you leave?
I clean off my desk and answer any calls that I need to. I try not to leave any loose ends.

is your greatest challenge?
Dealing with special-education students and the problems associated with special-needs busing.

JEAN MANN is the transportation supervisor at Lancaster County Public School District 1 in Lincoln, Neb. The district takes 6,000 students to and from school each day with a fleet of 138 buses.

How did you get your start in school transportation?
When I applied for the registrar job at Lincoln High School, I was sent to the transportation department, which I didn't know existed, and hired because of my computer experience. I hung in there for awhile, and I was promoted when my previous supervisor moved away.

What is the first thing you do when you arrive in your office each day?
I check with the dispatcher and the garage manager to see how everything is going. I also check with the office staff to see if any calls have come in.

What is the last thing you do before you leave?
I make sure that the second shift garage staff has no questions, and I find out what meetings I have for the next day.

What is your greatest challenge?
Making sure employees who work at the transportation department are happy. I try to meet their needs so they can be safe and competent drivers, para-educators, mechanics and secretaries.

BILL WAITES is transportation safety coordinator for Moses Lake (Wash.) School District 161. His fleet of 54 buses transports 2,500 students daily.

How did you get your start in school transportation?
I became a bus driver at the tender age of 19. I then went from driver to mechanic to driver trainer to dispatcher and then to transportation supervisor.

What is the first thing you do when you arrive in your office each day?
Acknowledge the diligence of everyone on the job with considerable enthusiasm and fanfare.

What is the last thing you do before you leave?
Tell the office staff to go home and do something fun with the family.

What is your greatest challenge?
Balancing the wants and needs of the public with the resources possessed. Suppressing the rumor mill among the troops and controlling the cat fights (competition) between those seeking more desirable positions.

KATHY WAGNON is transportation director at Page (Ariz.) Unified School District 8. Approximately 1,750 students are transported daily on the fleet's 38 school buses.

How did you get your start in school transportation?
When my third child started school, I began looking for a job that would have the same hours and days as my children. This job allowed me to participate in volunteering at the school between bus runs. I have since put in 15 years' worth of service and growth in my profession.

What is the first thing you do when you arrive in your office each day?
Check my messages and e-mails.

What is the last thing you do before you leave?
Turn out the light.

What is your greatest challenge?
Finding the proper tools and methods to train drivers in student management. I believe if we had these tools, it would help us retain drivers.

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