In his more than 30 years in the industry, Pete Japikse has worked in a variety of aspects of pupil transportation, holding positions at school district and contractor operations as well as at the state level.
For the past 11 years, he has served as Ohio’s state pupil transportation director, a role in which he is a driving force for improving school bus safety and service standards in the state.
“Pete’s passion for safety is evident in his quick response to media events affecting school bus service, in his ongoing process improvement efforts — including statewide e-mail updates — and in his advocacy on the state and national level,” says Terry Thomas, president of Community Bus Services in Youngstown, Ohio. “Somehow he finds time to respond quickly to requests for assistance from Ohio’s 616 local school districts. I don’t know how he does it all, and continues to keep the pace after many years.”
For his contributions to the industry at the local, state and national levels, Japikse was named SCHOOL BUS FLEET’s 37th Administrator of the Year.
SBF Publisher Frank Di Giacomo presented the honor at the National Association for Pupil Transportation awards banquet in Portland, Ore., on Oct. 31.
Japikse manages Ohio’s pupil transportation rules and regulations, making sure they are up to industry standards. He oversees the mandatory training program for the state’s school bus drivers, and he provides workshops for manager development as well.
Range of responsibilities
Japikse’s career in pupil transportation began when he got a job with a school bus contractor in Cincinnati while working on his master’s degree. He served as a part-time accountant, dispatcher and substitute bus driver.
Japikse went on to work for a number of Ohio school districts before becoming state director in 2000.
His office has a broad range of responsibilities, handling funding, driver training, safety regulations and technical support for the state’s school bus operations, which transport about a million kids a total of about a million miles per day.
“We try to be a resource for administrators — that’s the biggest part of the job,” Japikse says.
He works closely with districts to help them increase efficiency, providing them with data to benchmark their performance. His office is at the state Department of Education, but he spends at least half of his time out in the field.
Japikse’s staff includes two consultants and an administrative assistant in the Columbus office. There are also eight field staff members, who conduct school bus driver training.
Committed to the industry
On the national level, Japikse has served as president of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, and he was instrumental in forming the American School Bus Council.
In mid-2010, Japikse was named chair of the steering committee for the 2015 National Congress on School Transportation.
Japikse says that what he appreciates most about the pupil transportation industry is the dedication of the people.
“People are motivated to keeps kids safe, to make a difference,” he says. “There is an incredible amount of sincerity in this business. That makes it rewarding.”
An important practice for administrators, Japikse says, is to listen before deciding. “From where I sit, I have ideas, but those ideas won’t work unless I garner stakeholder support for them.”
Japikse notes that he values his time working out in the field more than his time in the office. “When I go out to the field, I try to leave something behind, but I also learn something from them.”