By Lenny Bernstein
Legendary sports broadcaster Howard Cosell wrote a book titled I Never Played the Game. The premise was that because Cosell worked in a world where “retired jocks” became announcers and because he “never played the game,” he was at a significant disadvantage when it came time to offer perspective about whatever sport he was broadcasting.
Little did I know when I read that book nearly 30 years ago that I would have so much in common with Howard Cosell.
Before I became NAPT president, I attempted to get a feel for what being in the position would be like by discussing issues and ideas with former leaders of the association. People who have helped NAPT become and remain the most vital and dynamic organization in pupil transportation told me in great detail how NAPT has consistently tried to create services and programs to meet the needs of our members, how we have supported good programs and services that others have created and how we have worked to build relationships and forge partnerships that support industry goals and priorities.
I thought I had a pretty good grasp of the task that lay before me. But I never played the game.
Believe me when I tell you that working with the federal government and dealing with national-level politics is more challenging than it appears. The three organizations that represent the school bus industry at the national level NAPT, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) and the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) — have been trying for years to obtain federal support for school bus programs with, frankly, modest impact thus far.
When you swim in a tank with all the other fish seeking federal financial or political support, not only do you come across some fish you have never seen before, but the sharks from other sectors that you fight are bigger and more aggressive.
That’s one of the reasons that we have worked diligently with our industry colleagues this year — probably more so than ever before. I have met with my counterparts from NASDPTS and NSTA almost every month since last November, and I talk to them even more regularly. We have all encouraged our respective boards to buy into a grassroots effort to “sell” the yellow school bus to policy makers and policy shapers at all levels. Let’s all hope that our plan is not only successful, but that it is successful soon.
In the next few years, it is essential for everyone involved in the pupil transportation industry to work in concert, especially because the issues we will tackle are varied and far-reaching. The vulnerability of our children’s safety and security as a repercussion of 9/11, the potential impact of the “65% Solution” and the effects of new EPA emissions regulations — all are crucial to budgeting decisions and will produce a profound ripple effect on the private and public sectors alike.
Other issues such as illegal passing of school buses, bullying on the bus (and elsewhere) and rampant bus driver shortages also pose challenges, now and in the future. NAPT will focus on all of them in the time ahead. Clearly, there is much work to be done.
If we are going to be successful, we need support from every corner of the industry. I would be remiss, therefore, if I didn’t encourage all of you to renew your membership or join NAPT if you are not a member now.
We offer a wide variety of benefits, like $10,000 of accidental death and dismemberment insurance that will cover you and your family simply by virtue of your membership in the association. Among the many other benefits, we offer special access to and reduced pricing on each of the 38 different training courses in the NAPT Professional Development Series. Not only is NAPT membership a good investment — dues have been the same low price since July 2002 — it has another important benefit: It will help you be a better leader.
As we all know, modern school transportation operations are extremely complex, high-paced organizations. It is not reasonable to expect any single individual to have a complete grasp of every operational or facility detail. Our training materials will help you better understand local and national issues and, therefore, help you train your drivers, technicians, dispatchers, managers and supervisors on what to look for in order to make your local operations and our national infrastructure safer.
As I look back on the past 12 months, I wonder where the time went. I am sure that the next year will go by equally fast. In the meantime, I urge all of you to take advantage of the great programs that NAPT has to offer and to always strive to “Lead Every Day.”
Lenny Bernstein is president of the NAPT and transportation coordinator at Haverstraw-Stony Point Central School District in Garnerville, N.Y.
Start planning for 2007
It’s never too early to start planning. For example, if you weren’t able to attend this year’s NAPT Conference and Trade Show in Kansas City, Mo., start planning for next year’s event.
In 2007, the industry’s premier pupil transportation meeting will be held in Grand Rapids, Mich., from Oct. 28 to Nov. 1.
If you’d really like to get ahead of the curve, you can start planning for the NAPT show in 2008, which will be held in Myrtle Beach, S.C., from Oct. 26 to 30.