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March 27, 2014  |   Comments (1)   |   Post a comment

Is a shared transportation director good for your operation?

Many factors must be taken into account when considering whether to have one director oversee yellow bus service at two school districts, including the operations’ proximity to one another, the condition of the fleets and the relations among department employees. Patience and support for the shared director are essential to long-term success.

by Michael Dallessandro

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Photo credit: iStock Getty Images

Photo credit: iStock Getty Images

As school budgets continue to shrink, school districts are seeking ways to make budget reductions that have a limited impact on educational and extracurricular programs for students. At the same time, citizens who are struggling to keep their own jobs in the private sector or retirees on fixed incomes are calling for reductions in administrative positions that they often view as having better salaries and benefits than the average person working in the private sector today.

As a result, some districts have utilized shared positions where two districts share one employee, such as a business administrator or facilities director. There are a handful of districts that view a supervisor or director of transportation as another position that can be shared, providing potential savings. While this is possible, districts should tread carefully, as there are risks.

Negative impact on safety?
School transportation via the iconic and easily identifiable yellow bus has a great safety record across our nation. Our industry’s safety record has been achieved through a number of improvements, including driver training, better technology, increasingly safer vehicles and a commitment by both contract carriers and school district-owned operations to viewing transportation managers as professionals.

These professionals are vital to our school transportation program’s current and future success, and the industry’s improvements have come all or in part from full-time, onsite management of a transportation program. When you share a critical employee whose job is to promote safety and provide day-to-day department stability and employee accountability, you basically take two full-time positions and convert them to two part-time positions held by the same person.

There is potential risk to our industry’s record in reversing any of the key components that have been proven to make a difference in safety and reduce accidents.

The financial savings
While some might argue that the immediate savings from a shared transportation director are minimal, especially in areas of our country that offer state transportation aid funding for management and staffing of a district’s pupil transportation program, clearly you will reduce some portion of an annual salary since you are combining a position and one director will no longer be present.

The real savings, though, will lie in the benefit package, conference budget, technology items and other day-to-day things you would have provided to the director who is no longer at one of the two districts. Of course, additional savings could come from the eventual sharing of purchasing, identical bus specifications, single parts inventories and a future joint transportation facility, all of which over a period of years a shared director can evaluate and facilitate.

Districts should border each other
Shared facilities directors can often assign the day’s work for both districts via e-mails or the telephone while sitting in one office, as can a school business official who is working on a computer doing budget development for two districts.

Transportation departments, however, are constantly in motion. Drivers often need answers to questions while traveling at 45 mph. A shared transportation director cannot simply assign work for the day and forget it. There will be the need for constant travel back and forth between the two districts, so if the districts sharing the director are not directly next to each other, the travel time will be lost office time, and in some cases chargeable personal auto mileage.

A shared transportation director position also works best when two neighboring large districts share the director, or when one large fleet and a neighboring small fleet share the director. The reason for this is that a shared transportation director cannot be expected to do every task, including dispatching, routing, safety, HR, shop management, government compliance, etc.

Each school district should have at least one dependable and competent full-time person in a support title, such as a head bus driver or dispatcher with some basic decision-making authority who can steer the ship on a day-to-day basis while the shared director does other tasks for each district, such as handling sensitive parent issues, personnel matters and budget with the support person(s) reporting in each day. General operational, clerical and dispatching tasks cannot be done by a shared director who will not be in the office every day or who needs to be able to leave District A at a moment’s notice when something happens in District B.

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Great article. I would respectfully disagree that sharing a supervisor, in the long haul, is great idea. Any way that the concept of sharing a transportation supervisor between two school district is advanced will never replace the fact that leadership is essential, especially in our profession. "Absent" leadership/management practices will, sooner or later prove this concept wrong. I can's back my statement here with data or facts, but I do know this, having been in leadership positions since 1976 I've seen both sides of strong, present leadership and weak, ineffectual "absent" leadership. My colleagues in NY state who have been "forced" into this types of shared position will tell you in private that it is not working like everyone else is saying in public. Our school bus drivers, mechanics and bus attendants, and more importantly our children deserve nothing less than our full attention each and every time.

Alfred Karam    |    Apr 04, 2014 06:59 AM

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