TOPEKA, Kan. — Larry Bluthardt has stepped down from his post after 24 years as state pupil transportation director for Kansas.
Bluthardt, who retired from the Kansas State Department of Education in late July, recently told SBF that the multiple health issues he's dealing with were a key factor in his decision, along with wanting to spend more time with family.
But he also expressed frustration with some developments that he said he feels aren't in the best interests of the state's school bus riders.
In particular, Bluthardt took issue with recent legislation that more than doubled the maximum service life of school buses in Kansas — from 12 years to 25 years.
Nevertheless, colleagues credit Bluthardt for his dedication to and knowledge of pupil transportation safety. Throughout his tenure as state director — which was initially under the Kansas Department of Transportation — he and staff member Wilma Crabtree produced the annual National School Bus Loading and Unloading Survey, a report on student deaths in the danger zone around school buses.
"He revised that survey more and more each year," said industry veteran Dick Fischer, a school bus safety consultant. "Now it's a good document that you can use considerably for driver training."
Fischer also noted Bluthardt's contributions to the Kansas State Pupil Transportation Association.
"He helped the state association considerably in leadership, and he attended all of their meetings," said Fischer, who has traveled to Kansas for many years to teach school bus driver training classes. "He will be sorely missed in the industry."
For his part, Bluthardt said he will miss working with industry associations and people in the school transportation community who "all have the same interest: dedicating our lives to the lives of the kids in those buses."
For now, Bluthardt said he's content to take time off, but he said he might offer his services in school bus matters from time to time if opportunities come up.
Craig Neuenswander, the director of school finance at the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) and Bluthardt's former supervisor, said that the search for a new state pupil transportation director is underway. He spoke highly of Bluthardt's contributions in the role.
"Before I came to KSDE, I was a superintendent of schools," Neuenswander said, "and I can safely say Larry’s knowledge of school transportation and bus safety is well respected by those in the field."