In her 40-plus years in pupil transportation, New Jersey’s Ingrid Reitano has overcome many obstacles, on and off the job.
That has included solving complex transportation challenges, skillfully handling parent concerns, and confronting a crisis in her state association.
Reitano, a mother of one and grandmother of two, has also showed her tenacity during two bouts with cancer. Most recently, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. As she underwent chemotherapy for three months, she continued her work in school transportation and even volunteered for Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
“I think working made it easier for me,” Reitano says of her time battling cancer. “It was the only place I felt normal and in control. It changed my whole way of thinking: Life is short. Do what you can. My legacy is going to be the idea that I helped people.”
Reitano has helped people in myriad ways, including mentoring new transportation supervisors, guiding school districts through New Jersey’s demanding state reporting process, and teaching school bus drivers the essentials for keeping their passengers safe.
“Ingrid is someone who tirelessly devoted many hours of her own time to proactively reinforce constant driver education and the safety and security of students,” says Teri Peterson, transportation coordinator at Holmdel (N.J.) Township Public Schools. “Some may consider her to be the matriarch of transportation in New Jersey. I know I do.”
For her leadership, her dedication to safety, and her selfless efforts to help others, Reitano has been named School Bus Fleet’s 2016 Administrator of the Year. SBF presented the award to Reitano at the National Association for Pupil Transportation Summit in Kansas City, Missouri, in November.
Reitano began her pupil transportation career in 1975 as a school bus driver for the Lakewood (N.J.) Public School District.
“First of all, I love driving. That was the thing to start with,” Reitano says. She also began to realize that she could have a positive impact on students’ lives by working in this business, even as she moved up the ladder.
Fourteen years after she started as a school bus driver, she was named assistant supervisor of transportation for Lakewood. When the district outsourced its transportation service in 1992, Reitano worked for the contractor, Murphy Bus Service, for the next three and a half years.
In the following years, Reitano held management positions at several New Jersey school districts, ultimately landing at East Windsor Regional Schools in Hightstown. She served as director of transportation for East Windsor for four and a half years before retiring in January 2016.
Still, Reitano remains heavily invested in pupil transportation, contributing to the School Transportation Supervisors of New Jersey and working part-time at Jay’s Bus Service. At Jay’s and at other transportation operations, Reitano conducts a course that she calls “Bus Driver 101,” which covers essential safety topics, like pre-trip inspections and railroad crossing procedures.
“It’s for any driver. New, old — it doesn’t matter,” Reitano says. “They all think they’re doing it right, and sometimes they’re not. … It’s a friendly reminder of what they need to know.”
Reitano also inspired her daughter, Tracy Lynch, to follow in her footsteps. Like her mother, Lynch got her start in the industry as a school bus driver in 2000, and she now serves as director of transportation at Northern Burlington County Regional School District in Columbus, New Jersey.
"She is a selfless human being who would help anyone at any time, no matter what the cost to her.”
- Barbara Vining, transportation coordinator, Middletown Township Public School District, Leonardo, New Jersey
Saving money, solving problems
At all of the transportation departments that she helmed during her career, Reitano focused on streamlining operations, often finding ways to save money for the school districts. One of her recurring tactics was implementing Versatrans software to increase efficiency in routing and planning.
“I used it wherever I went,” she says.
Reitano also built a reputation as a problem solver. She likens pupil transportation to “a great big puzzle,” and she says she has enjoyed the challenge of putting the pieces together. That includes personally dealing with any issues that arose, which kept district administrators happy.
“If a parent complains, it normally stops at my desk,” Reitano says. “I kept my supervisors out of the range of fire. … When I took over [transportation] at a district, they would say, ‘How come we never have any problems here?’ I would say, ‘Because I stop them.’”
Lending a hand
Reitano’s efforts haven’t been limited to the districts she has worked for. Colleagues say that she has constantly shared her time and expertise with the pupil transportation community throughout New Jersey.
“She is a selfless human being who would help anyone at any time no matter what the cost to her,” says Barbara Vining, transportation coordinator at Middletown Township Public School District in Leonardo, New Jersey. “Ingrid went so far as to go to other district coordinator offices and assist them with state reporting, which in New Jersey is unique and laborious.”
The annual reporting process, required for reimbursement from the state, involves reporting the transportation of all resident students, including such details as the number of miles they are transported, where they go, and whether they have special needs. The task can take two to three weeks, which Reitano says is a struggle for many transportation supervisors who are already saddled with their daily workload.
“You’re still running business as usual, and you’re trying to run a state report that’s tedious at best,” says Reitano, whom some districts brought on as a consultant to assist with the state reporting. “Anybody that had a problem, I would always help them, because I know how bad that report is.”
Before her retirement in January 2016, Reitano was a National Association for Pupil Transportation member for about 20 years. She also has a long history with the School Transportation Supervisors of New Jersey (STS). She has served in numerous roles for STS, including two terms as president, from 2005 to 2009.
Reitano has been involved in such STS endeavors as planning the program for the association’s state conference and conducting training seminars. She has also contributed to school bus safety competitions in New Jersey and beyond, as a chairperson for the state competition for 15 years and as a judge for the School Bus Driver International Safety Competition for about 10 years.
“I help out as much as I can,” Reitano says of her dedication to STS. “I do anything they need.”
Another of Reitano’s contributions to STS went beyond the normal responsibilities of the roles she has served in.
In 2013, it was discovered that the treasurer of STS at the time had allegedly embezzled more than $220,000 from the association in the previous year. This left STS in a dire financial state, with outstanding debt to multiple small businesses. Reitano pitched in to keep the association afloat.
“She stepped up and paid some of the debt with her own personal credit card,” Vining says.
Reitano notes that STS eventually paid her back. Now, the former treasurer is in prison, and the association has regained its solvency.
“We’re back in the black,” Reitano says. “We needed to pick ourselves up and get going, and we did. … Everybody worked hard — not just me.”