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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Steve Simmons, the transportation director for Columbus City Schools (CCS), is about to retire after 33 years of service to the district.
In those three decades and then some, Simmons has held just about every position possible in student transportation. He started as a mechanic for Columbus City Schools, worked his way up to become garage supervisor, and then took on the role of fleet operations supervisor, where he settled for some time. However, his interest in technology led him to work on maps for a new routing program, which took his transportation career in a slightly different direction.
“I sort of fell into that,” he said. “I thought it was pretty interesting. I worked on mapping for quite a while.”
Not long afterward, at the request of the chief operations officer at the time, Simmons began running the routing department over the summer, and became a dispatcher for a year. Then, he was asked if he would like to supervise the transportation budget.
“The COO was, unbeknownst to me at the time, grooming [me],” Simmons recalled. “A number of years after that, I was asked if I would fill out my application to become director. Of course I did. And I’ve been doing this ever since.”
During his 11 years as transportation director, Simmons has made significant technological advancements in the transportation department. He introduced electronic reporting for pre-trip and post-trip inspections, accurate reporting of planned versus actual on-time performance, and had GPS and cameras installed on every bus in CCS’ fleet.
Like many other transportation directors across the country, Simmons cites driver shortage as having been his biggest challenge.
“A few years ago, absenteeism and shortages didn’t bother you at all. Now, you’re just hoping to God you have enough drivers every day. You literally cannot hire fast enough.”
Meanwhile, more stringent state requirements to become a bus driver, particularly with the new CDL requirements, have made recruitment very difficult for a job that already isn’t drawing an overwhelming number of applicants, he adds.
Additionally, with recreational marijuana use becoming legal in more states, more job candidates think using the drug is OK, so getting candidates who pass the drug test is becoming more difficult, Simmons said, especially among those in the millennial age range.
Simmons’ extensive and varied tenure at CCS will come to an end on May 31. (A replacement for Simmons has not been selected yet.) However, he doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon.
Managing the transportation department of the largest district in the state, in which he has been responsible for 846 school buses that transport about 35,000 CCS students, and 1,003 employees, including 750 bus drivers and 150 attendants, has taught Simmons a thing or two, and he plans to impart his wisdom to others in pupil transportation.
As a region director for the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), Simmons is currently working on key performance indicator (KPI) data for Apollo, NAPT’s data-driven business intelligence platform that features a customizable analytics dashboard. Simmons also plans to remain on the NAPT board and will keep busy with his new consulting company, Pupil Transportation Innovation, which he launched about six months ago.
“I’ve been around long enough. I have a lot of contacts, a lot of information. I felt I could consult and help people, even if it’s just to sit down and talk about ideas,” Simmons said. “A lot of people try to reinvent the wheel and the wheel does not need to be reinvented. I have probably rolled that wheel halfway across the country.”
Simmons advises current and future transportation directors to “rise above all of the noise”: dealing with budgets, parents, drivers, routes, and shortages.
“Our core business is to get the kids to school safely. [Don’t] forget that. Because at the end of the day, if you get one or 1,001 [students] to and from school safe, you’ve done your job.”
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