What are some top challenges that many state pupil transportation directors are facing right now?
We’ve always had the challenge of making others aware of the importance of our industry. There are a great number of parents that truly depend on our industry to get their kids to school safely. And where the dollars are stretched so thin both locally and at the state level, it’s a huge challenge to promote school bus awareness and to fight for the funding to keep our buses on the road.
Also, due to the poor economy, many state directors face travel restrictions for attending conferences where we can become better educated and develop a network for helping us to solve the many problems we face. The cost of attending one or two conferences per year is very small when compared to the knowledge, help and inspiration it can give to better perform our jobs on a daily basis.
How about any challenges that you’re facing in your state?
We always have school bus driver shortages, and with Iowa’s unemployment rate being about 3% lower than the national average, we don’t have a great number of qualified people to draw from to drive our buses.
Another item: Here in Iowa, we’re ground zero of the biofuels program, yet every time we see a spike in petroleum fuels, the biofuels go right along with it. Since we’re making that stuff in our state, I don’t understand why that price can’t be a little more stable.
And finally, as school was getting underway this fall, our office was dealing with an investigative report from a statewide newspaper about our school bus inspection process that revealed that we have some “holes” in our process, mainly in the area of doing callbacks to check on repairs. We have two inspectors — it’s kind of difficult to do callbacks when each inspector is checking 7,500 vehicles each year. The inspectors and I have been pushing for additional inspection help for the past six-plus years, but it took an investigative report before we were heard.
Within the last year, legislative changes have been made in your state related to illegal bus passing due to the passage of Kadyn’s Law. Are there any other changes at the legislative level in the works that you expect to impact pupil transportation in Iowa?
There may be a real push in our Legislature next year to mandate the inspection of all vehicles that transport students — this would include all multi-purpose vehicles that currently have no inspection requirement. This was another item found in the investigative report and another example of something my office has been pushing to implement for the past five to six years without success until it hit front-page news. I think we’ll also see an increase in our inspection fee in order to fund at least one more bus inspector.
And I’d just like to mention that the Kadyn’s Law legislation has brought an awareness of school bus safety to our state that I honestly never thought possible. The true test will be to see if all this attention translates into more safety for our children as they get on and off of our school buses.
Are there any details about the conference in Memphis that you’d like to share?
I think we’re going to have one of the best conferences we’ve ever had! [Veteran industry consultant] Dick Fischer will be doing a session about school transportation in other countries — I think this will really open some eyes as to just how well we do it here in the United States, and a researcher from Sweden will discuss how to improve fire safety on school buses and motorcoaches.
We’ll also have sessions on future school bus design, future routing ideas and how we can make our school buses more noticeable to the motoring public by simply changing a few long-held beliefs in how we mark our buses.
Anything else you’d like to mention in terms of your presidency of NASDPTS?
It’s a great honor to serve in this position, and I truly appreciate the faith that my peers have in me by placing me here. The school transportation industry and NASDPTS have some of the most dedicated, helpful and selfless individuals of any industry out there. Being the president-elect of NASDPTS over the past two years has only helped to solidify my awareness of these industry traits and to build my own desire to give as much to this industry — to this family — as I possibly can.