Like many districts across the nation, Adams 12 Five Star Schools in Thornton, Colo., has been grappling with funding shortfalls in recent years, but David Anderson has found ways to mitigate the impact on transportation.
Most notably, the director of transportation and fleet service orchestrated adjustments to school bell times to make busing more efficient.
“I got with the superintendent and told him that we could save close to a million dollars if we did a three-tier system,” Anderson says.
Indeed, the result of the overhaul was a savings of $900,000.
Anderson has made considerable efforts to improve efficiency at his district and to help other districts do the same. For example, he serves as chair of the Metro Area Transportation Efficiency Study (MATES), a program that uses metrics to allow districts to compare themselves to others of a similar size and to find efficiencies.
Anderson brought the MATES concept to the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), for which he is a board member. Then, in 2011, the association began work on its own metrics project, with the goal of helping members to provide the best service possible — and to be able to prove it with quantitative and qualitative measurements.
For his contributions at the local, state and national levels, SCHOOL BUS FLEET named Anderson its 2012 Administrator of the Year. He became the 39th school transportation leader to win the award, which SBF Executive Editor Thomas McMahon presented to him at the NAPT awards banquet in Memphis, Tenn., on Oct. 21.
Rising through the ranks
Anderson started his career in the pupil transportation field in 1981 as a mechanic at Cherry Creek School District in Englewood, Colo. Under the leadership of the district’s then director of transportation, Joe Mirabella (who passed away last year), Anderson rose in the ranks from mechanic to shop foreman to fleet manager.
In 2005, Anderson made the leap to director of transportation at another district, Adams 12 Five Star Schools.
Colleagues say that one of Anderson’s defining characteristics is his desire for his employees to further their training and education.
Rodney Mitchell, operations manager of transportation at Adams 12, says that Anderson constantly offers staff members opportunities to attend professional development events. For example, he sent 30 employees to the Colorado Department of Education’s latest Summer Transportation Workshop.
Providing top-notch in-house training for school bus drivers, mechanics and other staff members is also a top priority for Anderson. In some cases, other districts from the area are invited to educational events at Adams 12.
“It is not uncommon for [Anderson] to bring in national speakers to share their expertise on timely subjects to give his employees, and other transportation professionals, additional tools to become experts in their field,” Mitchell says.
Anderson’s leadership was particularly vital as Adams 12 developed and built a new, $20-million transportation facility, which the operation moved into in June 2010.
“Dave’s expertise and experience in pupil transportation and fleet services were invaluable as we worked through all the logistics of completing such a complex project,” says Robert Webber, chief operating officer for Adams 12.
The state-of-the-art building has a variety of features to reduce energy use, such as extra insulation, numerous skylights and heated shop floors.
“Everything is efficient and energy-conscious,” Anderson says.
The district partnered with the city of Thornton to create a joint fueling station, wash facility and CDL training course in conjunction with the transportation facility.
Adams 12’s old transportation facility was built in 1969, and the district had long-since outgrown it.
“We had 25 employees when it was built — now we have 200,” Anderson says. “The old place was a dump, and the district recognized that.”
He notes that Webber was instrumental in securing bond money and a piece of land that was big enough for the new building and left room for future growth.
“We worked five years to get it designed and built,” Anderson says. “At times, I wondered whether we would get it done, but it turned out spectacular.”
The facility has a 16-bay shop for maintaining Adams 12’s fleet of about 150 school buses and 150 other vehicles.
Years of going green
Anderson has long been a proponent of adopting alternative fuels and retrofitting older diesel buses to reduce emissions. Adams 12 currently runs some hybrid and propane buses, which the district has acquired with help from government agency grants.
While at Cherry Creek School District, Anderson was one of the first to sign up for and champion the Denver-based Regional Air Quality Council’s (RAQC) school bus retrofit program.
“Without early adopters like him, the RAQC could not have developed our retrofit efforts that have now successfully spread to public works fleets, construction fleets and over-the-road trucking fleets,” says Steven McCannon, mobile sources program manager for the RAQC.
McCannon adds that Anderson has also helped in expanding the retrofit project beyond the Denver metropolitan area, which “will allow underserved school districts across the state of Colorado access to devices to protect children’s health.”
Creating career opportunities
Because he started his pupil transportation career as a mechanic, Anderson has made a point of helping young people enter the field.
At both Cherry Creek and Adams 12, he has set up mechanic apprenticeship programs. Automotive instructors from high schools in the district recommend their best students, who start as apprentices in the school bus shop as juniors or seniors and continue with the program as they attend a college in the area to get a degree.
While in college, apprentices typically work about 30 hours a week at the bus garage, where they get hands-on experience with the district’s journeyman mechanics, and they take their college classes at night.
Many of the apprentices have gone on to get a full-time job with the school district. There are currently several mechanics on staff at both Cherry Creek and Adams 12 who went through the program.
Setting up the program, which included developing standards for the apprenticeship and getting it approved by the U.S. Department of Labor, was not easy, but Anderson says that it was well worth the effort.
“Way back when, someone gave me a chance, so it’s important to me to give young people a chance,” he says. “You feel like you’re helping somebody fulfill their dreams. It’s the right thing to do.”
Anderson’s dedication extends to numerous industry groups. In addition to his current tenure as Region 5 director for NAPT, he has served as a Colorado delegate to the National Congress on School Transportation, a co-chair of the America’s Best School Bus Technician and Inspector program and a board member for the Colorado State Pupil Transportation Association, among other roles.
“You end up using a lot of personal time,” Anderson says of the industry commitments. “But there’s personal satisfaction in serving the transportation community. I try to be out there helping others and leading by example.”
To see past recipients of our Administrator of the Year award, check out this photo gallery.