Steve Kalmes, transportation director at Anchorage (Alaska) School District and a prominent figure in the school bus community, has been named SCHOOL BUS FLEET’s 2007 Administrator of the Year.

A Navy veteran, Kalmes got his start in the industry 33 years ago when he took a job as a school bus driver while attending the University of Kansas.

He advanced to management positions in Kansas and Missouri before relocating to Anchorage to head up the district’s pupil transportation department, a position he has held since 1985.

Kalmes is also a key member of NAPT, having served as a regional director and as the association’s president from 2003 to 2005.

His commitment to ensure safety and proper training at his operation as well as his many contributions in the national industry have earned him the honor of being the 34th recipient of the SBF administrator award. He received the award at NAPT’s annual conference in Grand Rapids, Mich., in late October.

Dedication to district
Kalmes oversees an operation of 239 school buses. About one-third of the buses are run in-house; the rest are run by contractor Forsythe Transportation Inc.

The district is dedicated to ensuring excellent driver performance and often works with school principals and parents to solve problems. For example, discipline has been a growing issue in the industry. To help combat the problem, every bus is equipped with video cameras in the front and rear to increase the drivers’ awareness of disciplinary issues.

Driver training is also an important component of Anchorage’s program, especially because the schools rarely shut down due to snowy weather conditions. When hot and dry winds called Chinooks roll in, conditions can be tricky. The Chinooks cause the top layer of ice on roads to melt, which requires more driver preparedness and caution.

The drivers are required to complete a minimum of 40 hours of training — half in the classroom and half in the field — before they are allowed to go solo. Oftentimes, though, drivers are asked to spend a few days with an experienced driver after training and before driving on a route alone.

“We’re very proud of our training program in Alaska,” Kalmes says. “And when we do give safe driving awards, I think people should get credit in dog years in Alaska compared to other states.”

Extensive efforts
For the past 10 years, Kalmes has been chair of the NAPT Professional Development Series, the premier training program for pupil transportation professionals. The series offers about 40 courses of four to eight hours on topics such as crisis communications, transportation risk management and how to deal with difficult people.

NAPT is working to make the courses available online in early 2008 as computer-based courses with a teacher overseeing the coursework. “Manager [backgrounds] have traditionally been experience-based,” Kalmes says. These courses will train professionals with the information they need to become transportation directors, he adds.

The 2007 NAPT conference was the 27th consecutive edition that Kalmes has attended. He said he believes that everyone in the pupil transportation industry should be a member, and the training series will be a good way to unite the industry even more. Kalmes describes NAPT as a “wonderful resource,” saying the people he’s met over the years have helped him with advice and assistance.

Kalmes also is appreciative of his Anchorage staff for their continuous support. “I would not have been recognized without my staff,” he says. “They do such a great job on a regular basis that it’s allowed me to become involved nationally.”

As he continues to find ways to recruit more NAPT members, promote the Professional Development Series and address pupil transportation issues that arise, Kalmes says he’s grateful to be involved in such an exciting industry.

“Transportation is definitely never boring, because two days are never the same,” he says.