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January 11, 2011  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Productive Discussions on Pressing Issues

Speakers at the NAPT Summit take on such topics as bus loading and unloading safety, bullying and cutting costs, and sharing information to ensure student safety and increase efficiency at one’s operation.

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The 2010 National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) Summit, held in the fall in Portland, Ore., addressed with intensity such issues as bullying and bus loading and unloading safety, highlighting the need for continued sharing of information on these topics to maximize student safety on and off the school bus.

Speakers also headed sessions that provided possible solutions to common challenges that pupil transporters face, as well as ways to increase operational efficiency.

Measures to ensure bus loading and unloading safety
Pupil transportation consultant and industry veteran Dick Fischer, together with Peter Lawrence, director of transportation at Fairport (N.Y.) Central School District, gave a presentation on safety during loading and unloading.

Lawrence urged attendees to connect with county officials to receive the latest mapping data to ensure districts take into consideration newly built roads, sidewalks and other changes during routing each year.

Fischer suggested that route sheets be tested by substitute drivers, as they will rely on them most during the school year. He told attendees to print text in a large font and mark locations where students must cross the street in bright red.

Transportation managers should also train drivers to evaluate stop safety and report hazards as soon as they arise, the presenters said.

The Pupil Transportation Safety Institute’s (PTSI) School Bus Stops Safety Guide and the National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures manual — which “should be on every desk,” Fischer said — were among the resources the presenters recommended to attendees.

Among the participants in a panel on bullying was second-grader Chancellor Coger (second from left), who said that people need to listen more to what kids have to say. Coger was a victim of bullying.

Special event focuses on bullying

Some attendees expressed appreciation for Florida father James Jones’ newfound dedication to school bus safety and anti-bullying efforts, applauding his comments during a panel. (Jones illegally boarded his daughter’s bus in September and threatened students who allegedly had bullied her. He has since been charged with disorderly conduct and disturbing a school function, and has apologized.)

Also present at the panel table was Thomas Built Buses essay contest winner Chancellor Coger. Moderator Barry McCahill asked Coger about the types of bullying he’d seen at school. “People need to listen more to what kids have to say,” he began. “When I told my teachers,” he said, then began to cry and was unable to finish his sentence.

In a dramatic moment, Jones spoke up. “There are kids like this all over the country, and seeing this brings all the feelings back,” he said. After that, comments took on a new level of urgency.

“Bullying is not new, and suicide because of bullying is not new,” said panelist Kevin Jennings, who is assistant deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. “What I’m hoping is new is this is the moment in history when we as a country say, ‘No more.’”

Session offers insight on students with behavioral disorders
In an engaging session, Kathy Furneaux, executive director of PTSI, spoke to attendees about another common problem that pupil transportation professionals encounter: behavioral disorders among students.

She emphasized that when students act out, it is a symptom of their emotional problems — it is not the cause of their emotional problems. In acting out, they are attempting to stop whatever is upsetting them.

To handle students’ emotional disorders, Furneaux recommended that pupil transporters turn to parents to find out the root of their children’s behavior problems. She also said that it’s important for managers to trust their drivers’ instincts and observations about students and their actions.

“Students with behavior problems will look to someone they can trust, like a bus driver, to intervene and help them — acting out is a cry for help,” Furneaux explained.

She said establishing a behavioral intervention plan is important, and she provided several intervention strategies for drivers. They include keeping students’ interest and using “planned ignoring” when students exhibit undesirable behavior.

Workshops cover cutting costs, boosting efficiency
North Carolina state director Derek Graham gave a presentation that demonstrated how several school systems in his state have adjusted routing through a funding program that incentivizes efficient service.

Routing and fleet data is collected through a statewide computerized system. “Each district is compared to the highest performing district using real-world data, not some pie-in-the-sky ideal, to create a budget rating for the district,” Graham explained. “The incentive is to spend less and operate fewer buses to improve the rating.”

Without impacting the number of riders, and in some cases improving ride times, many counties have been able to reduce miles traveled per student and take buses off the road. Staggering bell times and creating hub-style bus stops in neighborhoods have been key measures in their efforts.

Tim Ammon of Management Partnership Services Inc. discussed the benefits of using performance metrics to improve efficiency and explain costs in an operation’s maintenance garage. He said that looking at performance metrics helps create a “cheat sheet” for where most costs are generated and the possibilities for inefficiency.

Ammon outlined 10 metrics that operations can use:
1. Overall maintenance and repair costs per VEU (vehicle equivalent unit. VEUs should be assigned to all vehicles to set a base level that measures fleet demand).
2. Total parts cost: This measures all work going into the fleet.
3. VEUs per technician.
4. Productive hours per technician. Ammon said this helps determine how
many technicians are needed and what level of productivity to expect.
5. Inventory turn rate. (This ensures that parts bought are needed/used.)
6. Number of fuel transactions per unit.
7. Replacement backlog.
8. Average mileage.
9. Preventive maintenance compliance rate.
10. Vehicle availability.

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