As state pupil transportation directors from across the country gather in Portland, Ore., a changing of the guard will take place.
Florida state director Charlie Hood will wrap up his two-year term as president of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS). He will hand over the reins to Arkansas state director Mike Simmons.
During these past two years of increased focus on NASDPTS, Hood and the association have continued to collaborate with other industry organizations, particularly under the American School Bus Council (ASBC) banner.
Hood discussed those collaborations, the recent campaign to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, financial challenges and more in an interview with SBF Executive Editor Thomas McMahon.
SBF: How does it feel to be ending your two-year term as president of NASDPTS?
CHARLIE HOOD: NASDPTS is a tremendous asset to its members and to the national student transportation community in general. I’ve been honored that our members entrusted me with the position. It has been personally and professionally rewarding, so leaving it is somewhat bittersweet. The organization is in great hands with Mike Simmons taking the reins soon, and he’ll have the continued support of our board and members. As an organization, we have a very professional, well-focused team, and that team is all our members. It’s much bigger than the person currently in the president’s seat or any one individual.
As you think back over the term, what stands out most?
The last two years of working more intently within NASDPTS and with the other organizations and agencies that share our goals have really validated my basic belief that we need each other. Each student transportation organization and each agency we work with should maintain its focus and strengths. This experience has reinforced my belief, however, that it’s more important than ever to keep our institutional egos in check. It’s not about “NASDPTS did this” or “so and so did that.” More than ever, we need to work cooperatively and productively toward the end goal — making sure that every student in the U.S. who lives far enough from school to require transportation has access to a yellow school bus.
After a campaign by many in pupil transportation, Secretary LaHood pledged to create educational materials promoting the benefits of school buses. Are you pleased with the outcome?
Everyone who contributed to this milestone should be pleased. Many of your readers from all over the country contacted their congressional representatives to promote this result when the opportunity arose last winter and spring. Having Secretary LaHood publicly acknowledge the value of school buses and pledge his agency’s support was a large and necessary first step. To call it an outcome, however, would be premature. The ASBC and all the yellow school bus champions throughout the U.S. have a lot of work to do. We don’t pretend that we have the resources to create a public awareness campaign on the magnitude of “Got Milk?” or “Click It or Ticket,” but the latter is an example of what we’re asking NHTSA [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] to push toward with our help. Success is imperative, unless we believe it’s an option for yellow school bus transportation to be viewed as optional or ancillary to public education.
Financially speaking, it’s been a tough couple of years for school transportation. Do you have a sense of whether things will be improving in the near future?
Some states like Florida, Nevada and California are probably going to take longer to return to financial health due to the huge backlog of home foreclosures, high unemployment and the low consumer spending those create. School transportation and its funding are an integral part of the overall education program in most states. In that sense, current financial challenges are not unique to our sector. I don’t have a crystal ball, but we should all pay attention to the larger picture of state and federal trends and priorities in public education programs and financing if we want to predict the future of student transportation.
What do you see as the key issues that Mike Simmons will take on?
Internally, Mike will have the opportunity to bring about some improvements in services to our members. The biggest improvement he’ll oversee is a complete revamping of our Website. He’ll be shepherding our continued oversight of new or potential rulemakings by the federal agencies, our responses to NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] recommendations, our frequent communications of news items to members, and comprehensive updates to key NASDPTS position papers and guidance.
What about the Portland conference are you looking forward to most?
Apart from the obvious appeal of the locale, especially to a Florida flatlander, I am always energized and renewed by our conference. The workshops and the opportunity to pick our colleagues’ brains are necessary for our staff development as state transportation leaders. I am particularly looking forward to the keynote presentation by Lenore Skenazy, nationally syndicated columnist and humorist. Her NPR commentaries were filled with entertaining irony. The presentation, “Why Does an Old Fashioned Childhood Sound so Radical?” promises to be funny and thought-provoking.