Today, budgets are on the minds of pupil transporters just as much as transporting students safely. It’s no exception for the transportation team at the School District of Manatee County in Bradenton, Fla.
“The No. 2 item on our school district’s budget is the cost of fuel, so that has a large influence on what we purchase and how we operate it,” Director of Vehicle Maintenance Don Ross says of purchasing new school buses.
With the district’s most recent bus purchases, a combination of their fuel economy, providing training to help the drivers efficiently operate the buses, and route reorganization have saved the district about $400,000.
Veteran in vehicle management, maintenance
Ross has worked at the School District of Manatee County for 14 years. He was hired as the shop manager, where he oversaw all of the technicians, and he was then promoted to supervisor. For the last seven years, he’s served as the director of vehicle maintenance.
Ross’ career has long involved vehicles and heavy equipment. He has heavy equipment certification as a journeyman mechanic, and prior to joining the School District of Manatee County he worked in Michigan for a Fortune 500 company.
“I started as a manager and moved up to area manager, overseeing 14 locations across the U.S.,” Ross explains. “I was in charge of all of their mobile heavy equipment from all over the world.”
Craving a warmer climate, Ross relocated from Michigan to Florida after 17 years with the company.
He says when the opening became available at the School District of Manatee County, he applied because “it looked to be a very challenging and rewarding career.”
Communication is a top priority
Ross’ technicians maintain 217 school buses, and the bus drivers transport 15,500 students safely to and from approximately 60 schools. Ross says communication among the 290 staff members in the transportation department has been essential to this, and it also enables everyone to do their jobs in a cost-effective manner.
For example, Ross has worked with the technicians to help them understand that even though it’s hot during the summer months, they can’t perform tasks like seat repairs with the bus’ air conditioner on because it burns fuel, which necessitates more frequent oil changes and, ultimately, additional costs.
The maintenance team also tracks its service with the help of a 12x12 dashboard that’s hanging in the shop. Ross says the board displays the status of all the school buses, and when a driver calls in a problem from the road, a light begins to blink on the board and a clock starts to monitor the response time.
The techs are trained to get a spare bus to the driver’s location, and once students are transferred to the operable bus, the clock stops.
“When the [malfunctioning] bus comes into the shop, we have a team that reviews the situation: why the bus broke down, when was it last in the shop, what was the problem and what was the resolution, and what can we do to keep this from happening again,” Ross explains. “We do that with all of our road calls.”