An open door policy encourages transportation department staff at Oceanside Unified School District to share ideas that could benefit the operation.
‘Team Concepts’ Tackle Challenges
Oceanside Unified School District
It’s not just the favorable climate and, as the city name indicates, proximity of the Pacific that keep staff satisfied and working conditions composed at Oceanside Unified School District.
Dennis Smarsty, director of transportation, says that what he calls “team concepts” in his department as well as throughout the district are the foundation of their success. As an example, if a driver is headed to pick up students at a school site and gets stuck in traffic, other drivers will step up and help cover the mission to prevent the students from being late.
Another team concept is an open door policy — “and I mean open door,” Smarsty emphasizes — that allows everyone to share ideas that may be constructive to maintaining an advanced level of operation.
“The attitude is that this is not just a job, it is our profession,” Smarsty says.
Smarsty says that Oceanside’s drivers are the third-highest paid in San Diego County, which helps keep morale high. Factoring in the camaraderie and professionalism that pervade the ranks, it’s no surprise that turnover is low. Ten percent of the drivers have been there more than 22 years. The average employment length of drivers is 12 years. And the department’s combined driving experience is more than 850 years.
Drivers hone their craft through a combination of classroom and hands-on training. The Safety and Training section of the transportation department implements weekly instructional meetings for drivers and attendants. Special-needs roadeos are held as part of an annual training program. The department also engages in “Road Rallies,” in which participants follow a series of slightly cryptic instructions to reach a goal location.
Instructor Mary “Mac” McLaughlin says these events sharpen driving skills, knowledge of the area and teamwork between driver and attendant.
“Learning to work together is very important for the success of the department,” McLaughlin says.
The operation’s biggest challenge of late has been budgeting, Smarsty says, particularly because of the increased cost of fuel and the decreased passenger capacity brought on by three-point seat belts, which are required on new school buses in California.
Accordingly, efficiency is a crucial factor. One strategy that Oceanside has employed in this area is consolidating bus stops, allowing the buses to maximize seating capacity and still get to school on time. Also helping to boost efficiency is input from drivers and dispatchers, who constantly communicate issues in routing, traffic congestion and other areas.
Though the district has recently undergone dramatic budget cuts, Smarsty says that the budget seems to be getting back to a more stable operating level. This has allowed his department to create an effective bus replacement program that will be in full effect within the next two years.
“Our fleet’s average age is nine years,” Smarsty says. “With the purchase of 13 new replacement buses in June 2007, our fleet age will be 7 years.”
Oceanside’s fleet is made up of transit-style and conventional buses from a variety of manufacturers. Thirty-five percent of the buses are powered by compressed natural gas. Thirty-six percent of the diesel-powered buses are equipped with particulate traps. Smarsty says that these statistics underscore the district’s commitment to “doing our part to maintain a clean air environment.”
— THOMAS MCMAHON
Students transported daily: 5,700
Schools served: 25
Total students in district: 20,400
Transportation staff: 94
Area of service: 66 square miles
Average driver wage: $20.64/hour