Cleveland Municipal School District (Cleveland)
Fleet composition: 592 buses, 614 total
Total shop staff: 40
Number of bus bays: 16
Annual mileage: 7 million
Students transported: 35,000
Schools served: 200
“Every new problem helps staff members expand their knowledge, develop their character and strengthen their work ethic,” says Howard C. Strong Jr., fleet maintenance manager.
The department, which employs 37 mechanics, three assistant maintenance managers and one maintenance manager, is spread out over three facilities. Each garage has its own inventory of parts and includes a drive-through bus wash.
The department has computerized its operation to help track work orders and inventory for nearly 600 buses. “We use a combination of TMT Transman software and the ISIS program set up through International Truck and Engine Corp.,” says Strong. “The TMT software drives our maintenance facilities.”
Three levels of preventive maintenance are used to keep buses in top shape. Tough inspections by the Ohio Highway Patrol also help to keep the mechanics on their toes. “Our staff evaluates and inspects every component of the school bus to pass an extreme, rigid safety inspection by troopers,” Strong says.
Mechanics receive factory training annually. “This covers cutting-edge technology on engine computer systems and the new technology on antilock brake systems,” Strong explains.
As an example of the new technology being implemented at CMSD, Strong points to the particulate filter traps being installed on buses as part of the Clean School Bus USA program sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Improvisation is another strength of the department. “My mechanics amaze me on a daily basis with their innovations,” Strong says. “You will see them do everything from make custom-made tools to fabricate body panels and other parts that are no longer available.”
Elbow grease key to award-winning program
Community Consolidated School District 15 (Palatine, Ill.
Fleet composition: 138 buses, 143 total vehicles
Total shop staff: 11
Number of bus bays: 6
Annual mileage: 1.6 million
Students transported: 10,266
Schools served: 26
The maintenance staff of Community Consolidated School District 15 is no stranger to hard work. And that high level of effort has paid off. The transportation staff received the National Association for Pupil Transportation’s Leland E.G. Larson award for quality student transportation last year, and the school district received the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.
The maintenance program for District 15 has been dubbed “one of the best in the state of Illinois,” the result of a surprise state inspection that witnessed the passing of all of the district’s 130-plus buses.
“I think one of the things that makes us unique is that we choose to focus on care and safety,” says Bill Willetts, transportation director for the district. “Our on-time delivery of students is 98 percent — something that would not be possible if our buses were not maintained properly.”
Training at District 15 includes attending mechanic workshops held by the Illinois Association for Pupil Transportation as well as other workshops taught by industry-related companies like Blue Bird or Leece-Neville alternators. Mechanics are also urged to put together their own monthly meetings so that any concerns can be addressed right away.
The shop is trained to track and perform preventive maintenance in four areas: grease service, major service, brake inspections and valve adjustment. Fleet Vision software is used to track both preventive maintenance and parts for all district vehicles, and a computer lab helps mechanics stay abreast of current shop information.
“If there ever is a question as to should we or should we not do the work on a bus, the shop always errs on the side of ‘Do it — let’s make it safer,’” Willetts says.
That attitude sets the tone for an outstanding program.
“Our people are exceptional,” Willetts says “They go above and beyond. All the data shows that.”
Deptford Township Board of Education (Deptford, N.J.)
Fleet composition: 57 buses, 82 vehicles total
Total shop staff: 3
Number of bus bays: 3
Annual mileage: 764,000
Students transported: 3,500
Schools served: 8
When Joe Schaffer joined the staff as head mechanic at the Deptford Township Board of Education in Deptford, N.J., he used his years of experience with General Motors and Federal Express to implement new programs that increased the department’s efficiency and saved the district money.
“You have to remember you’re dealing with taxpayers’ money with the school district,” Schaffer says. “It’s not a profit organization and you have to try to do the most repairs you can at the cheapest cost.”
Schaffer has implemented numerous changes at the department over the past six years, including a new preventive maintenance routine and a new tire program.
His tire program tracks wear patterns and tire life and, by testing different brands of tires, he’s been able to get the maximum tire life on 82 vehicles, tremendously reducing costs.
“I’ve tried different brands of tires on different buses to see how long they last,” Schaffer says. He has found that different tires tend to perform better on different buses, depending on their weight.
Aside from the importance of cost-reducing programs, Schaffer says that teamwork is extremely important in running a smooth shop and scoring well on inspection ratings.
“My two guys and I have worked together before,” he adds. “We use each other’s input and have confidence in each other.”
Although ASE certification is not required at Deptford, Schaffer has earned Master ASE Technician status, and his two mechanics also have obtained ASE certifications.
Schaffer and his staff receive a lot of training from their vendors at no cost to the school district. Once a year they attend a mechanics workshop in Atlantic City, N.J., where they receive updated information on state inspections and attend seminars dealing with new types of brakes and other new systems.