Mike Connors believes that you shouldn’t tell someone how to do a job unless you can do the job.
It was that conviction that led Connors, early in his pupil transportation management career, to go through school bus driver training and get a CDL. Years later, the director of transportation for Brevard Public Schools in Cocoa, Fla., maintains his qualifications and even drives a bus from time to time.
“It gives me a better feel for dealing with the drivers,” he says.
Connors oversees a transportation department with more than 500 employees and over 400 route buses, ranking it in SCHOOL BUS FLEET’s Top 100 School District Fleets in the nation.
Even with the large size of his operation, Florida state pupil transportation director Charlie Hood points out that Connors shows an exemplary level of personal attention to his department’s customers.
Connors’ staff members cite his outstanding leadership. He is also highly involved in the pupil transportation community beyond his own district.
For his contributions to the industry at the local, state and national levels, Connors was named SBF’s 38th Administrator of the Year.
SBF Publisher Frank Di Giacomo presented the honor at the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) awards banquet in Cincinnati in October.
Connors is a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force. It was in the service that he had his first experience with pupil transportation.
On assignment overseas in Spain, Connors was a deputy base commander. Under his watch was the transportation of military families’ children from where they lived around Madrid to the base schools. Connors particularly gained experience with student discipline, dealing with issues on the buses (which were motorcoaches) and in the schools.
“Things were easier then,” he recalls. “I’d call the military parent in, say, ‘You’re going to do this,’ and that usually took care of it.”
After the Air Force, Connors joined the transportation department at Escambia County School District in Pensacola, Fla. He served as a transportation director there for seven years before moving across the state to Brevard Public Schools.
One of Connors’ top accomplishments at Brevard has been a change in bell times that saved the district $1.2 million in the following year.
By adding 15 minutes in between elementary and secondary bell times, the transportation department was able to cut costs by reducing its number of bus routes from 428 to 404.
Chuck Stevenson, who served as Connors’ assistant director for more than 10 years, points out that during recent times of widespread budget cuts, Connors led his team in providing the justification and documentation needed to keep all of the transportation staff in place and prevent layoffs.
Stevenson, who recently retired after 38 years with the Brevard transportation department, describes Connors as “a strong administrator ... fair, consistent, a team player and a very good listener.”
Stevenson says that Connors lets his key team leaders run their areas of responsibility, “but they have to keep him informed and be accountable for their actions and decisions.”
Last summer, Connors concluded a two-year term as president of the Florida Association for Pupil Transportation (FAPT). One prominent issue during his tenure was advertising on school buses.
While the state Legislature was considering a bill to allow ads on the exterior of school buses, FAPT issued a position paper and contacted legislators to voice their opposition to bus ads.
“Everything we do in our business around school buses is based on the safety of students. Whenever we change something on a school bus, we say that it makes it safer,” Connors told SBF in early 2011. “And in our minds, even though there’s not absolute black-and-white numbers to support it, we truly believe this [exterior advertising] makes the bus less safe.”
The bill died on the floor, but the association is staying vigilant in case it is introduced again in 2012.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for FAPT in recent years has been that, due to district budget cuts, many members have had travel restrictions, so the association had to restructure its training programs and other events.
One summer, FAPT canceled its annual conference. The next summer, Connors came up with the idea to recast it as a two-day symposium, which he says was highly successful.
In addition to his term as FAPT president, Connors has served on numerous state and national committees, and he has been a delegate to the National Congress on School Transportation, which meets every five years in Warrensburg, Mo., to develop school transportation specifications and best practices.
Connors is also one of two NAPT certified directors of pupil transportation in Florida.
His passion for pupil transportation is particularly clear when he speaks to his drivers, whether it’s a new class or an in-service group.
“I tell them to remember they are professionals. I never want to hear anyone say, ‘I’m just a bus driver,’” Connors says. “Education begins with transportation, and they are very much a part of it. It gives me great satisfaction that we really are having an impact not only on our students’ education, but also in their social development.”