Over the last year, Pat Schofill, the director of pupil transportation for the Georgia Department of Education, worked with state pupil transportation leaders and law enforcement groups to change a school bus passing law that raised concerns over student safety. Also serving as the Georgia state director for the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, Schofill oversees student transportation in a state where nearly two million students are transported by the yellow bus every school day.
In this interview with SBF, Schofill discusses driver and technician shortage, recognizing professionals who go above and beyond, and using technology to enhance training.
1. What are some of the top issues in school transportation in your state?
Georgia has not been immune to the problems that plague other states and certainly the southeast. The ability to attract and retain qualified school bus drivers continues to be a major issue.
Districts are also facing a challenge as they look to hire qualified school bus technicians. The increased demand for certified technicians in the trucking industry is creating a shortage that leaves school districts unable to compete for qualified personnel. The driver shortage also means that on many days, technicians are driving buses. This creates an issue with being able to complete repairs in a timely manner.
The increased traffic on many of our residential streets creates a challenge for districts to provide safe and efficient transportation. In many areas, districts are not allowing students to cross roads due to the risk of stop-arm violations. This increases route times and mileage.
2. Georgia recently reversed a provision in a school bus passing law. It went from allowing motorists to pass a stopped bus if they are on the opposite side of a highway divided only by a turn lane, to requiring motorists to be on a highway separated by a physical median. Tell us about any involvement you and others in pupil transportation had in influencing that decision.
Richard Woods, our state school superintendent, committed himself to working with the Legislature on a clarification in the language during this year’s session. With his support and the support of many others, we are proud that Senate Bill 25 was unanimously passed by both legislative groups and immediately signed into law by Gov. Kemp on Feb. 15.
We received support from the members of our state Board of Education, many local transportation directors, and the leadership team at the Georgia Association for Pupil Transportation. Local law enforcement groups and the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety provided support for SB 25 as well.
3. Tell us about some recent pupil transportation-related accomplishments at the Georgia Department of Education.
One of our greatest accomplishments was the initiation of our annual Blue Ribbon “Superintendent’s Safety Awards.” Superintendent Woods wanted to recognize the efforts of district transportation professionals who are going the extra mile for student safety. We are excited to announce our second annual winners in June at our state conference.
We’re also using technology to provide training. This year, we partnered with [the online professional learning website] Georgia Learns for an online delivery of our annual safety renewal education program for our school bus drivers and online recertification for all of our certified driver instructors.
Additionally, we strengthened our relationship with the Motor Carrier Compliance Division at the state Department of Public Safety. Their team developed an electronic database to collect data as they conduct annual school bus inspections. This initiative will allow us to better analyze data from school bus inspections. The data will also enable school districts and our department to determine the training needs for school bus technicians.
4. What has been the most surprising thing you’ve found so far in your work as state director?
The most surprising thing I’ve learned is the differences and similarities of our school systems. The state of Georgia is diverse. Our school buses transport approximately 1.7 million students to and from school each day. Our 10 largest school districts transport about 60% of our students each day.
5. What do you like most about working in student transportation?
Student transportation is a complex process. At the local level, I enjoyed the “puzzle” — all the pieces that are involved in pupil transportation. I’m analytical and enjoy solving problems. Pupil transportation has been a good fit. The drivers are genuinely the best people. Honest, hardworking, and child-focused are just some characteristics of Georgia’s school bus drivers.
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