Many email signature stamps include a school district motto or a favorite quote. Sam Bailey, transportation director for Biloxi (Miss.) Public Schools, has a bold statement below his email signature:

“The only Mississippi public school bus transportation operation to receive the golden Blue Seal of Excellence recognition from National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (2008-2014).”

The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) tests and certifies automotive professionals. For ASE certification, technicians need to pass a test and have two years of on-the-job training or one year of on-the-job training and a two-year degree in automotive repair.

To qualify for the Blue Seal recognition, at least 75% of a fleet’s technicians who perform diagnosis and repairs must be ASE certified, and each area of service offered in the shop must be covered by at least one ASE-certified technician.

“The ASE recognition publicly states our technicians are competent to provide safe and reliable maintenance services,” Bailey says. “We remain the only Mississippi ASE Blue Seal recognized pupil transportation operation since 2008.”

Aiming high in hiring, training
The Biloxi Public Schools shop has high hiring standards. Each technician is required to achieve ASE Master status, Bailey reports.

ASE exams are segmented by sub-specialty, including school bus. According to the organization’s website, the number of ASE-certified school bus technicians across the country is 4,482, and the number of ASE Master-certified school bus technicians is 1,388.

“Our technicians were all select hires for their knowledge and experience backgrounds stemming from the military or commercial industries,” Bailey says.

He adds that the operation provides its technicians up-to-date vehicle repair diagnostic and service equipment. The Biloxi techs also stay abreast of vehicle technology advancements by taking training through local parts and equipment vendors and by attending Mississippi Association for Pupil Transportation conferences.

Biloxi’s selectiveness in hiring has yielded financial benefits for the operation.

“Employing certified technicians has kept our operation expenses down and the efficiency level of vehicle in-service at 96%,” Bailey says. “Our operation hourly rate is 26% below the local commercial repair facilities [because we employ] our own certified technicians.”

As Bailey explains, the district realizes $58,700 in savings compared to outsourcing service above preventive maintenance.

Proactive maintenance
Biloxi’s maintenance shop can service three school buses and one utility vehicle at a time. The shop keeps busy working on school buses as well as police cruisers, hydraulic bucket trucks, vans and trucks, and lawn equipment.

“Our goal is to maintain low maintenance costs and high operation efficiency levels while upholding a school bus fleet in-commission rate no less than 96%,” Bailey says. “This begins with a good partnership between the driver and service technicians.”

Drivers play a proactive role and are encouraged to preserve their assigned bus with basic operator care and good driving habits. Bailey stresses that school bus drivers are an integral part of the maintenance care program. Their partnership helps foster an impressive turn-around time.

“It is seldom a driver uses a spare bus for his or her route,” Bailey says. “This partnership is seen through [the drivers’] impeccable cleaning and inspection care of the buses. Many of the bus write-ups turned in for maintenance adjustments and services are completed during the mid-part of the day.”

Biloxi Transportation Director Sam Bailey says that the district shop’s hourly rate is 26% below that of local commercial repair facilities.

Biloxi Transportation Director Sam Bailey says that the district shop’s hourly rate is 26% below that of local commercial repair facilities.

Cost benefits through reporting
The district’s mechanic manager routinely reviews a fuel mileage report. Bailey is also a proponent of fleet maintenance software. The operation uses software developed by Ron Turley Associates Inc.

“It provides a more refined report system,” Bailey says, adding that the program tracks all related expenses and labor allocation.

From his experiences, Bailey finds that the time buses spend out of service for warranty work is the biggest challenge.

“Warranty consumes costly labor time and towing at the expense of school districts to transport the bus to a repair facility,” Bailey explains. He reports that in the past two years, five buses accounted for more than 190 out-of-service days.

Bailey credits the information gleaned from his maintenance reports with helping the operation choose one bus brand over others. Collecting data through the fleet maintenance program has helped Biloxi reach independent conclusions about which OEM is best for them.

“Although not always the cheapest purchase price, [through our data] we found that Blue Bird had the lowest cost of ownership, [lowest] out-of-commission time, and the longest in-service life expectancy by 41% over the other brands,” Bailey says.

Safety first: inside and out
Biloxi Public Schools’ safety protocols are both universal and unique to their location. The operation follows Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Environmental Protection Agency standards.

The repair bays are kept free of trip and slip hazards. Tools and equipment are frequently inspected.

Also, out of concern for the district’s Gulf Coast location, new and used drums of fluids are stored in sealed barrier containment areas to prevent accidental leaks into nearby wetlands.    

Shop Stats
Fleet: 59 buses
Total shop staff: 3 technicians, 1 mechanic manager
Number of bus bays: 3
Annual mileage: 530,000
Students transported: 5,700
Schools served: 7

Lisa J. Hudson is a freelance writer based in Raleigh, North Carolina.