The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) examined key state and federal issues during its annual meeting, held Oct. 27-31 in Austin, Texas.
Officials from the Transportation Security Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration spoke on the latest developments in pupil transportation.
As well, several state directors provided information about developments in their states or regions, including briefings on Web-based vehicle and driver information tracking, third-party CDL examiners, driver-screening companies and safe-crossing procedures.
The meeting also included a debriefing of the 14th National Congress on School Transportation (NCST) that turned contentious when facilitator John Green, California’s state pupil transportation director, suggested that his state did not benefit from the meeting, which is held every five years to develop guidelines for school bus operations and specifications.
“I don’t think it’s right to go down this path without looking at the process,” Green said. “If this was a business, it would be bankrupt.” He said California has always developed its own pupil transportation standards without regard to the document prepared at the NCST.
Charlie Hood, Florida’s pupil transportation director and NCST conference chair, reported that the 2005 Congress, held last May in Warrensburg, Mo., attracted 297 delegates from 47 states.
Hood said the major themes from the meeting included the increased leadership taken by delegates, improved accessibility and productivity and the name change: from the National Conference on School Transportation to the National Congress on School Transportation, a proposal forwarded by Donald Tudor, pupil transportation director in South Carolina.
Pete Japikse, Ohio’s state pupil transportation director and president of NASDPTS, said his state, like California, doesn’t use the NCST. “We believe that we’ve got a tougher standard,” Japikse said. “But it’s an incredible benchmark.”
Charlie Gauthier, executive director of NASDPTS, said “millions of dollars are spent by the industry to put the document together. We need to make it usable and desirable by everyone in the industry.”
Pete Baxter, who has been named the conference chair for the 2010 Congress, said he’d like to see the meeting evolve. “The process has pretty much stayed the same, but the industry has changed,” he said. “I’d like to see the process become cleaner, faster and more responsive.”
The hurricanes that pounded Florida and the Gulf Coast were discussed during the four-day meeting. Leonard Swilley, state pupil transportation director in Mississippi, spoke about his state’s response to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated parts of his state, Louisiana and Alabama.
“We were grasping at straws as to what to do,” Swilley said, explaining that Mississippi has never been hit so hard by a hurricane. He said 79 of the state’s 102 school districts sustained at least some damage. Approximately 160 school buses were damaged, with about 66 destroyed. The cost of replacing the vehicles is estimated at $10 million, he said.
Obtaining fuel was one of the key issues for hurricane-afflicted school bus operations. Swilley said he had to wait in line for six hours to fill up his tank so he could drive into southern Mississippi to survey the damage. “If we hear of a storm approaching, we’re going to have school buses top off their tanks,” he said.
“Our flood was in children,” said Charley Kennington, Texas’ state pupil transportation director. He said 47,000 Katrina evacuees started school in the state the day after Labor Day. Two months later, nearly 45,000 were still in Texas schools.