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September 01, 2004  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

The Transportation Manager's 2004-05 Survival Guide

The new school year has begun. How will you handle the stress of budget cuts, driver shortages, weather-related problems and student behavior? Transportation managers share their strategies for soldiering on when things fall apart.

by Albert Neal, Assistant Editor

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It's a transportation manager's worst nightmare. You've got a fleet of buses that need replacing but a budget that won't buy you one, a shortage of several drivers with no new prospects, a disgruntled dispatcher and two mechanics who won't work until they receive pay raises — all this while Timmy the Tormentor's mom is on the phone line arguing her little precious' innocence! The new school year is just starting. How do you feel?

Recognizing stress
Many transportation managers face their days with a certain level of bullheadedness. The job has to get done whether you feel up to it or not, so what's the big fuss? Oftentimes this dismissive posturing works well to propel one through the daily grind, but at what price? What's behind those sleepless nights, the attention deficits, mood swings and the frequent, unexplainable aches in your back and shoulders? You recognize it right away in your staff — alcohol or drug abuse, chronic fatigue, anti-social behavior, but what about when it's happening to you? Transportation managers must learn to recognize their own stress and deal with it accordingly.

Our bodies react to changes in our environments. Those changes, especially when unexpected, cause stress. Having to adjust or respond to events causes stress. Experiencing certain types of stress is normal. It's our body's way of signaling danger or the need to be alert. But when certain types of stress occur, it can be damaging, both physically and mentally.

Stress is common like hunger and headaches, and the causes vary significantly. Death, traffic and crowds are frequent contributors just like marriages, births and deadlines. The key is knowing how to direct, reduce or prevent stress. This becomes a challenge when the source is unknown, but more often than not we know the source — we simply deem it unavoidable or unalterable. Look out for stressful situations like the following in the 2004-05 school year.

Weather the storm
Challenges abound in pupil transportation. Some are controllable, some aren't. But few can rankle a transportation director's nerves like inclement weather. Biting temperatures or heavy precipitation can cause cancellations or make it nearly impossible to safely transport students to school.

"Day-to-day pressures like dealing with staff, drivers, kids and angry parents don't really get to me like the weather does," says Greg Liedl, transportation director at Bemidji (Minn.) School District.

Minnesota temperatures can drop well below zero, without wind chill, which causes stress to both the human body and to school buses. It's up to Liedl to determine if the conditions can be weathered. He's awake at 3:30 a.m. and in contact with farmers to the north and south to gauge the severity of the cold.

"It's stressful because now you're deciding if there's school or not," says Liedl. The extreme temperatures can persist for days, but shutting the schools down too often can cause a different kind of storm. "You can't cancel too many days or you'll be into June trying to make them up."

Fourteen-hour days are common when the temperatures plummet, says Liedl. But the long days are necessary to ensure the safety of the students he transports.

"It's not the chill factor, it's the ice," he says. "It's when you apply the brakes and the bus just keeps moving."

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