Brrr ... school buses battle numbing cold

Posted on February 1, 2004

The early stages of winter brought record low temperatures, snow and assorted weather-related maladies to the East Coast, providing extreme challenges to school bus operators returning from the Christmas break.

“The weather has been unbelievable,” said Larry Perry, president of Perry Bus Co. in Bethany, Conn. “I am happy to say that my small fleet of school buses has responded well. The keys are a strong preventive maintenance program and use of a fuel additive.”

Taking precautions with your fleet during periods of extreme cold requires an investment of time and money but is a wise course of action. “It’s a small price to pay to prevent a breakdown on some small back road with a bus load of freezing students,” said Perry. “However, -20 degrees is tough no matter what you do.”

In Monson, Mass., snow has not been a problem, but extreme cold has taken a toll. “It has required us to be aggressive in the treatment of our fuel,” said Michelle Loglisci, transportation coordinator for Monson Public Schools. “We have had to stock an inventory of Power Service and 911 additive, use a 50/50 blend of fuel and plug the block heaters in more often.”

Fortunately, school was closed on Friday, Jan. 16, one of the coldest days in decades. “We had an actual low temperature of -14 degrees and a wind chill of -35 to -45 degrees,” said Loglisci. “With such extremes, our superintendent chose not to have the students wait at the bus stops.”

“Cold weather is a way of life for us here in the Northeast,” said Corey Barber, transportation coordinator at Greater Johnstown (N.Y.) School District. “Just last week we closed school one day because of the cold, -15 degrees and -50 wind chills.”

Barber said the key to dealing with this type of weather is planning. “We have a driver meeting every other week on pay day,” he said. “As we approach the winter driving season, I usually go over our winter procedures.”

Keys to safe winter driving, Barber said, include slowing down and not worrying about arriving at school a few minutes late.

Barber’s mechanics also take precautions with the district’s 20 school buses. “We closely monitor battery and charging systems,” he said. “Air brake tanks are routinely drained to prevent freeze-up of air brakes. And our diesel is cut with kerosene to prevent fuel gelling.

“With pre-planning, we keep our problems to a minimum. It also helps to expect the unexpected.”

Farther south, in Stanly County, N.C., a school bus driver lost control of his vehicle on an icy road and the bus ended up on its side. The Jan. 9 accident sent three middle school students to the hospital. The bus driver said the back end of the bus simply slid out as he was negotiating a winding road.

Frigid temps were not confined to the eastern portion of the country. At Tahoe Truckee Unified School District in Truckee, Calif., school was canceled on Jan. 6 because the diesel fuel in school buses solidified in sub-zero temperatures and clogged the fuel filters.

“We didn’t want to run the buses and have children stranded on the roadway,” Transportation Director Tom Miller told the Sierra Sun in Truckee.

The fleet’s approximately 50 buses were not operable despite being filled with winterized diesel fuel that had a cold-weather additive. The buses are parked outside, but district officials said they will consider building an indoor shelter.


SBF unveils redesigned Website

TORRANCE, Calif. — SCHOOL BUS FLEET has made sweeping changes to its industry-leading Website with an eye-catching new design and a stronger emphasis on coverage of the industry, both with breaking news and sharing of information.

More breaking news will be posted and accessible from the opening page at, making it easy for visitors to stay on top of developments in the industry. Rather than just posting links to newspaper articles, SBF’s editors act as industry gatekeepers, screening and processing information so it’s pertinent to the approximately 3,000 people who visit the site daily.

What won’t change on the site is the popular Forum, which allows thousands of school transportation professionals and other interested parties to exchange their views on all facets of the industry. More than 50,000 posts have been made in the Forum, ranging in subject matter from maintenance to operations to equipment. If you haven’t visited the Forum recently, you’ll also notice that the site offers several new features for participants, such as the posting of photos and graphics and instant messaging through America Online or Yahoo! Messenger.

The redesigned Website also features bolstered commercial interactivity. Its new eClassifieds section allows buyers and sellers to connect online. Sellers can post their products and services 24 hours a day. Listings can include photos that can be uploaded instantly by the seller. The eClassifieds also has an eAlert system that notifies buyers of new listings in their area of interest.

In addition to the eClassifieds, the site boasts the SBF Exchange, an online directory that provides information about hundreds of industry suppliers and manufacturers. To ease the process, visitors can search the database using keywords, equipment categories or the geographic locations of the companies.

SBF’s editors are constantly updating and enhancing the content at the site. For example, surveys and research performed by the editors for the magazine are uploaded to the Website in the Research section. In addition, all feature stories and most departments, such as the Editor’s Note and Industry News, are made available on the Website in the Archives.

To help pay for the cost of acquiring this information, visitors who want to access the Research section and Archives will be asked to pay a $2.95 monthly fee. They also will receive access to the archives of SBF Plus, an eight-page newsletter that features dozens of practical suggestions for improving school bus operations in every issue. People who sign up for a minimum six-month registration will receive two free posters — “History of School Transportation” ($12.95 value) and “Day Dreaming” ($4.95).

The rest of the content on the site will remain free, although visitors will have to register to use the Forum, the Breaking News archives, the Current Issue and SBF Exchange.


NSTA, feds name best practices for school bus security

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The National School Transportation Association (NSTA) has collaborated with federal agencies including the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Transit Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to develop the “Top 25 Security Program Action Items, School Bus Operations.”

The following items identify the most important elements that school bus operations can incorporate into their security plans. NSTA encourages school districts and bus carriers to adopt these practices to the extent practical for their operations.

For management:

1. Develop a written security program and emergency management plans in conjunction with school administrators, law enforcement, fire department, EMS and emergency preparedness agencies. The plan should address traditional crises such as fires, weather emergencies and school evacuations, as well as terrorist activities.

2. Review and modify emergency plans as necessary in light of increased threat levels from the Department of Homeland Security.

3. Develop a command structure for responding to a crisis. Know the roles and responsibilities of first responders, and determine the chain of command within your organization. Verify 24/7 contact information.

4. Identify multiple evacuation routes from schools and bus facilities; identify alternatives for regular routes that use key infrastructures, such as bridges or tunnels, in time of increased security alerts.

5. Coordinate and stage a practice drill of emergency plans with the local security partners mentioned above.

6. Develop a plan for getting information to schools, parents and law enforcement. Appoint one person to communicate with the media and the community.

7. Ensure that updated route sheets and passenger lists are readily available for all buses and schools.

8. Prohibit unauthorized persons from entering buses; establish authorization standards and procedures.

For facilities:

9. Conduct a risk assessment of facilities, including bus yards, garages, dispatch locations and driver areas. Conduct a risk assessment of all routes and bus stops for security as well as safety, noting, for example, stops obscured by overgrowth of bushes where persons could hide.

10. Control access to bus parking areas, if possible. Restrict entry to one gate.

11. Install fencing, lights, locking gates, video surveillance or other security measures as needed.

12. Arrange with local police to include your facility in their regular patrols.

13. Reduce your tolerance for “security anomalies,” such as overdue or missing vehicles, intrusions into the bus yard and unverified visitors.

For equipment:
14. Maintain a security system for bus keys.

15. Equip all buses with two-way communication.

16. Establish an “external trouble indicator” that drivers can use to alert law enforcement, such as all lights flashing. Be sure to discuss with law enforcement.

17. Install video surveillance, GPS, door locks and other equipment as needed and permitted by state law. Train employees in proper use.

For personnel:

18. Provide IDs for all drivers (preferably photo ID).

19. Conduct background checks on employees if not provided by the state.

20. Advise employees to report suspicious incidents or persons at the bus facility or on route.

21. Provide security training for drivers and other employees.

22. Establish crisis codes for drivers to alert dispatch if they are in trouble.

23. Train drivers never to leave buses running, but to turn off the engine and take the keys when leaving the bus at any location.

24. Advise drivers to check buses for foreign objects inside and outside anytime a bus has been unattended, such as at an activity trip destination.

25. Establish a method of position reporting as needed during high alerts.


Governor backs repeal of anti-privatization bill

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — School districts in the state could save millions by contracting out non-teaching services such as school bus transportation, education officials say.

As part of his budget and economic recovery plan, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called for the repeal of Senate Bill (SB) 1419 during his first State of the State address on Jan. 6.

SB 1419 now limits school districts in using the most efficient ways to provide non-instructional services by restricting schools from hiring private companies for busing, maintenance, cafeteria work and janitorial services.

Introduced by Sen. Richard Alarcon and signed by then-Governor Gray Davis in the fall of 2002, the law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2003.

The law was designed to protect both employees and tax dollars by guarding classified school employees from having their jobs contracted out.

However, the law does not prohibit districts from hiring private businesses; it requires schools to prove cost savings prior to contracting out services.

Opponents of SB 1419 estimate that repealing the law could save public schools at least $100 million annually by allowing schools to contract outside vendors.

According to Schwarzenegger, the saved money could then be used for instructional programs and protect students from future state budget cuts.

In his speech, Schwarzenegger stated, “School districts are forced to spend an average of 10 to 40 percent more than necessary on non-classroom services. We must give local schools the freedom to be more cost efficient. One way to do this is to repeal SB 1419, the law that prevents schools from contracting out services such as busing and maintenance. This will free up more money for textbooks and other vital classroom needs.”


Fox River Grove settlements reached

CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. — Closure has almost been reached, at least legally, in the 1995 Fox River Grove school bus-train crash that left seven high school students dead and several others seriously injured.

According to the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, 25 of 27 lawsuits filed in connection with the Oct. 25, 1995, crash have been settled. Details of the settlements are sealed under court order.

The families of the seven students killed in the crash are among those who have settled with the defendants, which include School Districts 47 and 155, the Union Pacific Railroad, Metra (a passenger rail line) and three small companies involved in the rail crossing’s design, operation and maintenance.

The bus, which was driven by a substitute driver on the morning of the crash, was not clear of the tracks as it waited for a traffic light to change. The rear end of the vehicle was slammed into by a Metra commuter train traveling at nearly 60 mph.

The impact sheared the body of the bus from the chassis. Four students were thrown from the bus and killed. Three other students sitting in the rear of the bus were also killed.

A lawyer for five of the plaintiffs said his clients are happy with the settlements. The mother of Joseph Kalte, one of the students killed in the crash, said the financial settlement did not provide any relief. “There is no amount of money that is going to replace my son,” Catherine Kalte told the Daily Herald.


Thomas donates bus to children’s camp

RANDLEMAN, N.C. — Future campers of the Victory Junction Gang Camp will ride in style, thanks to Thomas Built Buses. The company has donated a 14-passenger, lift-equipped bus, complete with its own special paint scheme.

Founded by NASCAR driver Kyle Petty and his wife, Pattie, in honor of their late son Adam, Victory Junction will be a year-round camp for children ages 7 to 15 with chronic or life-threatening illnesses who live in the Carolinas and Virginia.

The 75-acre camp, which is scheduled to open this summer, will have 16 camper cabins, a dining hall, gym, pool, theater, equestrian center, arts and crafts center and race shop. Fitting with its NASCAR alliance, the camp will have a racing theme, including a tunnel and starting line at the entrance.

"The Victory Junction Gang Camp is going to be a magical place for special children to go and just enjoy being kids," said John O'Leary, CEO of Thomas Built Buses. "The Pettys and everyone involved with the camp have done a remarkable job, and we are proud to provide a safe, reliable vehicle manufactured by the dedicated employees at Thomas Built Buses."

The special design for the bus was the vision of Kevin Jeannette of Gunnar Racing in Florida. Kevin’s son, Gunnar Jeannette, raced with Kyle Petty and Paul Newman in a camp-themed car at the Bullyhill 250 at Watkins Glen, N.Y., in August 2003. The decals and decal application were donated by John McKenzie and his team at Motorsports Designs.

For more information, visit


NSTA launches member newsletter

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The National School Transportation Association, which represents the private school bus sector, has launched a newsletter for its members.

“Our goal is to provide you with up-to-the-minute information you can use,” wrote Jeff Kulick, NSTA’s executive director, in the Jan. 12 debut issue. He said the newsletter will be distributed via e-mail or fax about every two weeks.

The first issue of the newsletter contained a series of regulatory updates regarding Head Start, child safety vests, CDL improvements and the Environmental Protection Agency’s clean air grants.

The second issue, distributed on Jan. 23, focused on the development of the NSTA’s three-year strategic plan and the objectives of the association’s 18 committees.


Interim rule on safety vests extended by NHSTA

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has extended the interim rule that allows the sale of safety vests that attach to a seat back for use on school bus seats. The interim rule, which was extended to Sept. 1, 2004, was due to expire on Dec. 1, 2003.

Before NHTSA’s announcement, concerns were mounting about the looming deadline, especially among manufacturers of the school bus safety vests. Connie Murray, president and owner of E-Z-ON Products Inc. in Florida, sent an e-mail to Dee Fujita, an attorney for NHTSA, requesting her assistance. In response, Fujita said the interim rule had been extended while the regulatory agency continues to work on its response to public comments.

The interim rule was a response to an August 2001 interpretation of a federal motor vehicle safety standard (FMVSS) involving safety vests. In that interpretation, NHTSA officials said safety vests that wrap around the bus seat or seat cushion were not in compliance with section 5.3.1 of FMVSS 213.


Driver, attendant hailed for saving preschooler’s life

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A school bus driver and an attendant for First Student Inc. have received much praise and several awards for their actions in saving a preschool student on their bus.

On Dec. 4, attendant Kathie Muir noticed that the child, a preschool student in the Anchorage School District, had stopped breathing. While she performed CPR, driver Hank Phillips pulled the bus over and alerted emergency personnel.

The student responded quickly to CPR and began breathing, and police and paramedics arrived at the scene shortly after. Paramedics transported the child to a local hospital for observation.

A report sent to First Student by the district and a police officer on the scene praised the duo of driver and attendant for having “performed their duties in an outstanding and professional manner.”

Muir and Phillips received Iceberg Awards from First Student for their heroic actions, and the school board presented them with certificates during a ceremony in January.

Terminal Manager Ray Bays said the pair deserves every bit of recognition they’ve gotten. “They did a great job, and everything turned out really well,” he said.


NAPT surveys non-members

ALBANY, N.Y. — The National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) is inviting non-members to participate in an online survey designed to help the association ensure a successful course for the organization and the industry.

Completing the survey should take no more than 10 minutes. The first 2,500 individuals who participate will be entered into a drawing for prizes that include merchandise bearing the NAPT logo, a one-year free NAPT membership, a $100 gift check and free registration for the 30th Annual NAPT Conference and Trade Show in Cincinnati from Oct. 31 to Nov. 4, 2004.

To fill out the survey and qualify for the prizes, visit


Robinson named to SBF advisory board

TORRANCE, Calif. — Alexandra Robinson, director of transportation services at San Diego Unified School District, has been named to SCHOOL BUS FLEET’s Editorial Advisory Board.

Robinson is well known for her contributions to pupil transportation as an author, presenter and advocate in the areas of mobility and securement, civil rights, safety and transportation of students with special needs.

For the past seven years, Robinson has directed the transportation program at San Diego Unified, the second-largest school district in California. In 2001, she was named SBF’s Administrator of the Year.

Robinson actively contributes to the school bus industry on the local, state and national levels. In conjunction with the California Association of School Transportation Officials, she co-authored Access and Mobility, a compilation of guidelines for transporting students with disabilities. She is actively involved with the National Association for Pupil Transportation and serves as a regional director.

Before joining the transportation program in San Diego, Robinson worked for the Florida Department of Education, providing technical expertise in the area of special-needs transportation for 68 school districts.

Robinson is originally from New York City and began her career in education as a counselor and teacher of students with severe autism.


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