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December 01, 2001  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Economic downturn provides opportunities

Economic downturn provides opportunities

by Frank Di Giacomo, Publisher


It’s time to tighten your belt - while at the same time re-evaluating your options in regard to the school transportation supplier community. The U.S. economic downturn is deepening, and recovery could be slower than expected. Another terrorist attack - forever a possibility - would only delay progress toward a healthy business climate. In the meantime, there's much to be done. School transportation will likely be forced to take its share of spending cuts. Local and state tax revenue is going to fall well short of estimates, requiring school boards to find ways to reduce costs while at the same time maintaining educational standards. School transportation, like all of the so-called ancillary services, will be a tempting area for school boards to pare the budget. What can be done?
Like I said, belts will need to be tightened. However, there are ways of reducing spending without compromising your ability to procure the equipment that you need. You might want to re-evaluate your relationships with your vendors. Now is a great time to pursue new supplier relationships, ones that could cushion your budget for years to come. When cost-cutting is necessary, managers need to look at the entire budget. You know better than I do where reasonable cuts can be made. We all need to beware of false economies and short-term thinking. When making cuts, look beyond the horizon to see how these reductions will impact the operation six months or even two years from now. Ask your staff for help. They can provide money-saving ideas that might never occur to a manager. Offer a reward for the best suggestion, even if it saves only a few dollars a day or week. Make sure that every submission is acknowledged, even those that come from deep right field. The primary objective is to find money-saving strategies, but the secondary goal should be to impress upon the staff that controlling costs is critical. Volunteerism is in vogue again. You might want to ask your staff if they might each be willing to volunteer a couple of hours each week to help with the nuts and bolts of the operation. For example, routine tasks such as bus washing could be turned into a volunteer event, with snacks and beverages offered to those who are willing to donate their time. Consider the tough sell
Your staff probably deserves more than they’re being paid. You probably do, too. But these are not normal times, and sacrifices are being made throughout the nation as we fight a war in Afghanistan and battle terrorism on the home front. Although cutting wages would be unacceptable, you might want to look at freezing wages or adopting a policy of granting only cost-of-living salary increases. That’s a tough sell, I know. For those of you who work with labor unions, it’s an even tougher sell. But these are not normal times. Check the business section of your daily newspaper. Every day, companies are slashing jobs, closing plants and hunkering down for hard times. If we can’t ask employees for concessions now, when can we ask for them? There’s a notion that employees are entitled to pay increases merely for staying on the job year after year. That’s simply not true. We need to make sure that everyone understands that pay increases are earned with hard work, improved performance and greater value to the organization. With unemployment rates on the rise and driver applicants more plentiful, this may be a good time to reinforce to the staff that extraordinary times require extraordinary effort. Let them know that employees who rise to the challenge will not be forgotten when the economy improves. Remember, too, that safety is the top priority in school transportation. Maintaining a high level of safety and security may require small sacrifices on the part of all of us. Is that too much to ask?

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