National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) members heard a major theme emerge during the general sessions and seminars at the 2009 Summit: namely, that transportation is a key part of the education system, and the industry must take on and promote that role in order to achieve larger safety and educational goals.
Speakers reframe industry’s role
Particularly noteworthy was Hon. Dirk Kempthorne’s address, which touched on both topics. A champion of the school bus industry, the former U.S. senator and secretary of the Interior mentioned a wooden school bus model presented to him during his time as governor of Idaho, “a reminder of what I consider a cornerstone of our education system,” he said. “The political process requires the best in all of us, and I believe that means an involved citizenry. NAPT is representative of that.”
Peggy Burns of Education Compliance Group Inc. reinforced those themes, saying, “Your role in attendance and student success must be a part of your strategy.” In her address, she discussed the need to balance pressing issues that garner media attention, such as the H1N1 virus, sexual predators, global warming and terrorism, while still dealing with the perennial issues that arise in pupil transportation, such as incidents of student assault or harassment on the school bus.
Statistics show that these incidents have increased in number over the last 10 years, she said, noting that the school bus provides a ripe opportunity for this type of behavior. “The person at each helm must take reasonable action — that’s what the law asks us to do,” she said.
Keynote speaker Teena Fitzroy told her life story with the aim of helping attendees understand the perspective of students with special needs. Fitzroy, a family information specialist for Monroe #1 BOCES in Fairport, N.Y., grew up with cerebral palsy and was the first child with a disability to attend her local elementary school.
Her presentation, titled “Junk in My Trunk,” focused on the assumptions people make about those with disabilities and the struggles she has faced and overcome. “Society’s attitude is the No. 1 problem for people with disabilities,” Fitzroy remarked.
Government officials provide updates
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) special investigator Dennis Collins presented an update on the agency’s recent report on pedal misapplication accidents. Four of the five accidents discussed in the report involve school buses, with available evidence pointing to pedal misapplication (mistaking the accelerator for the brakes) as the cause.
Collins told attendees that NTSB’s recommendations in the report include the installation of brake transmission shift interlock devices on all new school buses, research on pedal design, the installation of event data recorders and physically separating buses from pedestrians at pickup and drop-off.
“Part of NTSB’s mission is to restore public confidence in an extremely safe mode of transportation,” Collins explained.
Jim Blubaugh, director of the EPA’s Clean Diesel program, announced a $5 million grant to NAPT that will allow school districts to reduce monthly lease payments for CNG buses. The National School Bus Equity Investment Lease Program will provide funds that can be recycled year after year, and Blubaugh said the EPA expects to leverage over $120 million over the course of the program.
Bill Arrington, Highway and Motor Carrier Division manager at the Transportation Security Administration, updated NAPT on the agency’s actions. The long-awaited school bus assessment is completed, he said. He expected Congress to have it by the end of 2009 and hopes it will produce federal funding for school bus security efforts.
Finally, John Van Steenburg, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s director of enforcement and compliance, reported that the agency hopes to create an approved list of medical examiners for CDL certifications and a pre-employment driver database accessible to school bus operators.
Sessions give guidance on tough topics
Bill Koch, a public relations consultant for the school transportation industry, discussed crisis management strategies for such incidents as driver misconduct or a child being left on a bus. He urged transportation directors to be responsive to parent and media inquiries and to maintain credibility in the face of a highly chaotic situation. The handout from his presentation, and many others, is available to NAPT members at www.napt.org.
In a moving presentation, Dr. Allan Beane introduced attendees to his organization, Bully Free Systems (www.bullyfree.com). Beane’s son was a victim of bullying in school and committed suicide later in life. The organization has developed an anti-bullying manual and training for school staff and victims of bullying.
Suppliers look to 2010 and beyond
Alternative fuels and the EPA’s 2010 emissions standards were common threads among many of the manufacturers at the trade show. Cummins showcased its selective catalytic reduction engine technology to meet the 2010 standards, which will be used in Blue Bird and Thomas Built buses.
Thomas Built displayed its Saf-T-Liner C2e hybrid school bus. The company said that testing revealed a potential fuel savings of 300 to 450 gallons per year. Thomas Built also recently redesigned the cockpit of its Saf-T-Liner EF. Updates to the Type D bus include a redesigned engine cover to provide easier access for maintenance and more room for passenger entry; optimized driver’s seat placement and additional knee room; and reorganized dash switches, grouped by function.
IC Bus had its MaxxForce Advanced EGR (engine gas recirculation) technology engines, which meet the EPA’s 2010 emissions requirements, on display. In December, the first 2010 emissions-compliant IC school buses were delivered to Columbus (Miss.) Municipal School District. The 28 CE Series school buses were purchased by the district with funding received from the EPA in conjunction with the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act’s National Clean Diesel Funding Assistance Program.
The NEXBUS Type A school bus series, also on display at the trade show, represents Collins Bus Corp.’s latest efforts in providing alternative energy options for school bus operations. The bus is available in a hybrid gas-electric model, which features regenerative braking and electric-only mode at low speeds, or as a propane-fueled vehicle, which allows operators to access federal tax credits per gallon of propane.
Blue Bird debuted a redesign of its driver’s area on its Type C Vision school bus at the trade show, as well as a new line of cleaning products called Bird Bath. The line carries a triple-zero HMIS (Hazardous Materials Identification System) score and has been recognized as meeting the highest standards created by the EPA’s Design for Environment program. Blue Bird also announced a joint venture with Girardin Minibus, consolidating the companies’ Type A lines. The new entity, located in Drummondville, Quebec, has been dubbed Micro Bird Inc. It will design and fabricate the Type A school, activity and commercial buses, which will be branded Blue Bird Micro Bird by Girardin.
Also during the event, Seattle-based Zonar Systems awarded a grant to Freeport (Ill.) School District #145 to outfit its entire bus fleet with a customized electronic inspection, tracking and management system comprising more than $60,000 worth of Zonar equipment.
Dallas Rackow, the district’s director of transportation, said that Zonar’s equipment and guidance “will mean a complete transformation of the Freeport School District’s transportation department.” She expects that enhanced student safety and operational cost-savings will be direct results of implementing the system.
Scholarship winner grateful for opportunity
Brian Wilbert, a driver trainer/safety instructor for Hopewell Valley Regional School District in Pennington, N.J., was able to attend the NAPT Summit this year with the help of the Peter and Linda Lawrence Pupil Transportation Training Scholarship, which covered the registration fee for the event. Peter Lawrence is director of transportation at Fairport (N.Y.) Central School District.
To apply for the scholarship, Wilbert submitted a candidate request letter and two recommendation letters. “There is a whole world of information waiting for us in Louisville,” he wrote, “and I thank Peter and Linda Lawrence for the opportunity to apply when I needed it most.”
SBF caught up with Wilbert, who has more than 20 years of experience in the pupil transportation field, in Louisville. He said the last NAPT conference he attended was in 1994 in Albuquerque, N.M. School districts he has worked for since then have been unable to provide funds to attend the conference.
“It’s important to recognize [the Lawrences] for supporting professional education, particularly in difficult economic times,” Wilbert said. “NAPT is probably the most important and beneficial conference in our industry.”