Any other big changes you’ve made there so far?
I don’t know that it’s a change, but I’ve made a point to meet with all of our bus vendors on an individual basis to make sure they know that I have a background in transportation and I care about the operations piece.
I think the other part is that people are less likely to try to run a transportation department from behind their desk. Rather, we have account managers and routers now out in the field visiting the schools, following buses, riding buses — things that they really didn’t have time to do before. We really tried to restructure.
So it’s probably a lot more hands-on than they were used to. But everybody has been, I must say, very open to getting the training and very amenable to learning new stuff. Especially when it comes to special education.
We’ve done a lot of behavior management training and a lot with characteristics of disabilities, why we transport per the law and legal issues with transporting students with disabilities. So I hope it’s a welcome change.
The other big thing that has happened since I started, although it’s not as a result of me: They were already in the process of doing a pre-K bid when I got here, and we’ve now implemented the new bid structure for transporting early intervention and pre-K.
We had kind of a rocky start of school — not with school age, but with pre-K — and that’s been quite a challenge. But people here work very hard. It’s very common to have people work 13, 15 hours a day. It’s a lot.
So was the Office of Pupil Transportation not doing pre-K transportation before?
Actually, many years ago, the pre-K and early intervention was done by the Department of Transportation in New York. The Department of Education took it over several years ago, but it hadn’t been bid. So we bid in kind of a zone structure for the first time.
Our department is actually aligned by borough. We had already been doing the transportation, but this was the first time it had been bid in a while. So it’s an effort to be more efficient and to save money.
We’ve had several hiccups along the way, but we’ve had a lot of really good things happen. I think it was a very smooth opening for school age.
Tell us more about how the department is aligned by borough.
All of our offices are in Queens, in Long Island City. We have a huge building — it’s 35,000 square feet of office. And in each borough, there’s a borough director, an account manager and routers. They’re responsible for everything that goes on in that borough.
We also have an account manager specifically over our yeshivas — the Jewish schools — who works directly with them. We actually have a rabbi who does that.
Unlike other school districts, we transport for all private, parochial and non-public schools. So we do all of the Catholic schools, Greek schools, Islamic schools.
We also transport out of borough for special ed. So we transport students to Westchester County, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Nassau and Suffolk counties in Long Island.
Any other ways it’s different from previous jobs you’ve had?
It’s challenging because there’s a lot of control we don’t have. I can’t go outside to the parking lot and say, “There’s still kids standing. Go send a bus.” Because I don’t own the buses.
Also, it’s so condensed. There’s very little suburban. It’s all urban, except for maybe Staten Island. So I think that part is a little different. Driving, routing and picking up within huge, complex traffic patterns is difficult. But we do it very safely.
And I guess I thought that the largest transportation operation in the country would be the most progressive. But in many cases, because there’s so much history and policy ... it’s not as progressive as I thought. We have a long way to go.
So that’s one of your goals, to make the office more progressive?
Right. And more in line with the best practices of the school transportation industry.