For the last few days of October and first few days of November, Cincinnati was the place to be.

As the National Association for Pupil Transportation’s (NAPT) 30th Annual Conference and Trade Show shifted into gear, attendees were abuzz with talk of President Bush’s appearance in town for a last-minute election rally at the local ballpark. Certain areas of downtown were blocked off, and Secret Service agents roamed the vicinity.

Michael Schlappi, a disabled former Olympic basketball player who gave an inspiring keynote presentation at the opening session of the conference, reported a visit from the president’s protectors over a hunting gun he had in tow for a subsequent excursion.

Appropriately, it was security that proved to be the hot topic at this year’s event. On Election Day in this linchpin state, whether Ohio would go red or blue wasn’t the only commotion. At a fairground on the outskirts of Cincinnati, a bomb squad literally raised the roof off an old school bus as part of an anti-terrorism training event. The blast was so tremendous that motorists on a street bordering the fairground called police (who were actually involved in the demonstration).

“I wish there was some way to communicate the incredible power that we felt and saw when that bus exploded,” said Linda Farbry, director of transportation services at Fairfax (Va.) County Public Schools. “It was the most devastating experience I’ve had in a long time.”

This year’s NAPT event, which drew about 900 pupil transportation professionals and 650 vendor representatives, comprised 50 workshops on various topics, including student management, emissions reduction and labor issues. The bulk of the program took place at the Cincinnati Cinergy Convention Center.

Safety first
The standout session was the half-day amalgam of classroom training, hands-on experience and a full-blown scenario that all worked toward one goal: helping school bus operators deal with hazardous devices.

Cincinnati bomb experts gave the large crowd of excited attendees a thorough presentation on how to identify such devices and what to do if one is discovered. Steve Sweeney of the Cincinnati Fire Department recommended keeping the environment as intact as possible in the case of a potential bomb. The point stressed most here was simple — don’t touch it! But other actions can indirectly trigger some devices. For instance, cell phones should never be used within close range because of the transmissions of energy they send out.

Sweeney said that school bus operations should set a color or number code for this type of incident and standardize reporting procedures, such as giving the code name, bus number and a statement noting evacuation status.

When evacuating a bus for a bomb concern, Sweeney recommended moving passengers at least 1,500 feet away from the vehicle. “If you can see the bus, you’re too close,” he said.

After attendees walked through buses that had been filled with various packages to try to determine what should be considered suspicious, the highlight of the event began.

The crowd, braving rain and cold winds, stood on a bluff overlooking a large field to watch a mock crisis unfold. Percy Abbott, vice president of safety for First Student, narrated as an activity trip driver who had been away from his bus for a substantial period of time used a hand-held inspection tool manufactured by Zonar Systems to perform a security check of keys points on the vehicle.

After the driver moved away from the bus and alerted authorities, police arrived with a bomb-sniffing dog to secure the situation.

Next, the experts demonstrated a series of different explosive devices, culminating with one small enough to fit in a backpack that had been placed on a 1983 Ward school bus. Guest detonator Deborah Lincoln, the state pupil transportation director in Oregon, set off the fiery blast that demolished the bus — a haunting reminder of the need for added alertness in pupil transportation.

“We live in a time when heightened vigilance against potential terrorist acts is not just something to which we give lip service,” said Pete Japikse, state director of pupil transportation for Ohio and president of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS). “Being prepared and responsible means moving training from textbook discussions to live demonstrations.”

Japikse, a chief organizer of the event, said that a training package with video and lecture material from the event would soon be available.

John Boyden, transportation and maintenance supervisor at New Lexington (Ohio) City Schools, said after viewing the demonstration, “It’s important to make everyone more aware of the damage that could be done if there were even a small amount of explosives on a bus.”

The topic of security seemed to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Karen DePorto, transportation director at Lincoln-Way High School in New Lenox, Ill., said the session she was looking forward to the most was on New Mexico’s school bus security training program, which the state’s Department of Education developed with its Office of Homeland Security and Department of Transportation.

“Three weeks ago, I downloaded the New Mexico program from the NASDPTS Website and did an in-service with the introduction to my drivers,” said DePorto. “We’re going to go over a little bit of this at each of their monthly meetings.”

Handling difficult riders
Another big issue at this year’s conference was student behavior management. Capacity crowds funneled into presentations covering issues such as bullying prevention, identifying gangs and managing special-education student behavior, among others.

Jeffrey Studebaker, a student service specialist at East Allen County Schools in New Haven, Ind., facilitated a case study called “Kid Friendly,” which was developed by a behavior specialist with a background in criminal justice. Studebaker offered insights that can help drivers understand the reasons that children misbehave.

Julie Ely and Mark Smith, both mentor directors, contributed to the development of the mentoring program and explained how it matches new school bus drivers with experienced drivers who assist them with driving issues as well as the behavioral issues of the student riders. The general message was that if you approach children with a positive attitude, most will respond in a similar manner. {+PAGEBREAK+} “Firmness, fairness and consistency” are what drivers must display with children who ride their buses, says Smith.

Another popular student behavior workshop, presented by Jack Blain, an education consultant, focused on positive attitudes and communication skills versus negative attitudes and poor communication. The goal of this session was to instruct attendees on how to prevent problems and avoid power struggles on the bus by learning how to appropriately deal with an explosive, non-compliant student.

Blain suggests that staff attitude is often reflected in the attitudes and behavior of student passengers. If drivers modify their own behavior, it sometimes becomes easier to impress the same upon a child. “Students may not remember all you taught them,” says Blain, “but they will remember how you treated them.”

Other skills and concepts presented in the session included teamwork, positive feedback, expectations and consequences and minor/major misbehavior intervention.

Driver shortage returns
The need to find qualified bus drivers who will stay on the job has always been a problem in school transportation, but the shortage tends to worsen when the economy is good and jobs are plentiful.

“Money is not a challenge for us,” said David Pace, transportation director at Virginia Beach (Va.) Public Schools. The problem is a driver shortage and chronic absenteeism of the existing corps.

Increased transportation demands created by the addition of magnet schools have placed a burden on Pace’s ability to fill the extra routes. “While I can get the buses, I can’t drag people off the street to drive the buses,” he said.

The Virginia district covers approximately 630 routes per day — but averages 70 to 90 absent drivers daily. “Each of my drivers has four school assignments; therefore, we must find ways to cover from 280 to 360 routes every day by some other means,” Pace said. As a backup, he has only 30 substitute drivers.

The realities of clean air
Among the blockbuster workshops during the NAPT conference was a half-day event titled “The Realities of Clean School Bus USA.” NASDPTS Executive Director Charlie Gauthier led discussions with representatives from various clean air groups and state pupil transportation associations.

Jennifer Keller, the Clean School Bus USA team leader for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), extolled the emissions reduction program’s progress. Because of demonstration projects in the 2003-04 school year, 125,000 students began riding cleaner buses this year.

“It’s really been neat to see so many people in Washington work together in harmony on this when they usually have separate agendas,” Keller said.

Justin Greuel of the North Carolina Regional Air Quality Council reported on his agency’s work with several school districts in the state that shared an EPA grant. Greuel, as well as other presenters, pointed out the advantage of partnerships in these endeavors, as they were able to use economies of scale to retrofit 28 more buses than the 321 they had originally planned on.

Another point expressed several times was the ease and quickness of installing diesel-oxidation catalysts (DOCs). In the North Carolina project, the DOC vendor performed the process at each district’s garage, with each bus only taking a matter of minutes. Project officials also invited local media outlets to view the installations.

Interest in emissions reduction was apparently high, as attendees raised a multitude of questions and concerns — regarding upcoming regulations, funding prospects and the availability of alternative fuels, among other things — throughout the session.

New buses on the block
The trade show featured the products and services of 133 vendors. Here are some highlights of the new products introduced.

Although this year’s trade show didn’t feature the blockbuster bus unveilings that we saw last year, a couple of manufacturers did roll out some new models. Entering the small-bus market, IC Corp. introduced the BE200, an integrated school bus that can seat 13 to 30 passengers.

The BE200, which uses technologies common to the CE conventional bus, has a GVWR of 19,500 pounds and a wheelbase of 158 inches. It comes standard with 78 inches of headroom, a three-piece hood and an International VT 365 diesel engine.

Michael Cancelliere, vice president of International’s Bus Vehicle Center, said the BE200 has key advantages over cutaway buses. Customers will only need one point of contact for their needs because the body, chassis and engine are built by the same manufacturer. In addition, the full-size purpose-built bus is expected to outlast and outperform the cutaways. “We think the BE200 is a cut above any other small bus available on the market today,” he said.

U.S. Bus also unveiled a new small school bus that seats up to 42 passengers. Although it doesn’t have a name yet, the vehicle is a departure from the company’s current offerings.

Irv Kushner, operations director at U.S. Bus, said the new bus benefits from a modified manufacturing process. “Instead of handmaking everything, we’re outsourcing for parts,” he said. This minimizes labor costs and has other advantages. Construction of the rear of the bus, for example, is now outsourced and arrives as one piece. In addition, it uses more fiberglass to reduce weight, Kushner said.

Other features of the new body design include a one-piece floor-to-floor roof bow, rivets with a watertight internal seal, joints glued with high-tech adhesive, standard LED marker and clearance lights, powder-coated trim and a service door with a wider viewing area for improved safety.

Innovations on display
Meanwhile, Ford showcased its 2005 E-Series Cutaway chassis, which features a new powertrain control module, air conditioning and an electronic five-speed automatic TorqShift transmission standard. The chassis is available in the E-350 Super Duty SRW or DRW and the E-450 Super Duty models. Each model has the option of a 6.0L Power Stroke turbo diesel engine.

Silent Witness showed its Digital Chaperone DDR, an all-digital video data recording system for school buses. The package includes four cameras to allow wide coverage and an alarm mode that starts recording to capture vandalism on parked buses. The corresponding BusView software has an intuitive interface for advanced laptop viewing, search and image retrieval.

IMMI’s SafeGuard introduced an enhanced version of STAR (Student Transportation Add-on Restraint), which uses cam-wrap technology with a five-point restraint and a flexible base that is height- and weight-appropriate. It can be used with any current school bus seat.

The standard STAR fits a child from 25 to 65 pound. STAR Plus, with an additional 2 inches in length and width, fits a child from 25 to 90 pounds. It also has a larger comfort pad and shoulder area.

Q’Straint unveiled its QRT Max securement retractor, which has a low-profile design for greater clearance of wheelchair footrests. It also is automatic, with self-tensioning and self-locking retractors. The system also features a positive lock indicator that allows the operator to quickly determine if the track fitting is locked in anchorage.

RCA Rubber Co. displayed its APEX Step Tread, which has a large, cone-shaped nub design to give greater bite and resist breakage. The widely spaced cones also allow for easier cleaning and maintenance. A 22-gauge, galvanized metal backing helps to extend tread life, while the dimensionally stable rubber avoids potential shrinkage. (For more on bus flooring, click here.)

On tap for 2005. . .
Next year’s NAPT event will be held in Austin, Texas, from Oct. 30 through Nov. 3. For more information on any of the workshops offered at this year’s conference or for inquiries about the trade show, e-mail the association at or call (800) 989-NAPT.


2004 NAPT Award Winners

Blue Bird Heroism Award
Charles Greller, David Lucas and Sandra Graham, Martin County (Fla.) School District

IC Corp. Driver Training/Safety Award Grant
Ohio Pre-Service School Bus Driver Training Program, Lake Shore (N.Y.) Central Schools

Mirror Lite Safety Cross Award
Grant Reppert, Gwinnett County Public Schools, Lawrenceville, Ga.

NAPT Distinguished Service Award
Dick Fischer, Peyton, Colo.
George Horne, Pupil Transportation Safety Institute, Metairie, La.

SCHOOL BUS FLEET Administrator of the Year
Donald Tudor, transportation director, South Carolina Department of Education

Sure-Lok Special-Needs Transportation Award
Michael Livingston, Brevard County (Fla.) School District

Thomas Built Buses Professional Growth Award
Darryl Webb, Anderson (S.C.) School District
Toni Parlier, Watuage County (N.C.) Schools
George Sontag Jr., Centerville (Ohio) City Schools


Heard in the Aisles

We asked attendees at the NAPT 2004 conference and trade show in Cincinnati the following question:

Are you doing or planning to do anything at your operation related to terrorism and other security concerns?

Security plays a big part in our in-service. We have checklists of what the drivers are supposed to do if something happens on their bus as far as weapons, threats, hostages, etc. It’s gone over pretty well. It’s an ongoing program plus an orientation-type thing when they come in — just like CPR and First Aid training.
Transportation Maintenance Supervisor
Hamilton Southeastern Schools
Fishers, Ind.

During our orientation at the beginning of the school year, we used the Transportation Security Administration’s brochure on how to recognize threats and inspect the bus. We didn’t have a lot of time to spend with the drivers on that, but we did give them a copy of it and briefly went over it, pointing out things to look for.
Director of Transportation
Conroe (Texas) Independent School District

We’ve addressed some issues, but we have more to go. Where I live, there are a bunch of refineries in the area, so we have security issues all the time. The event this morning was a good learning experience. It brought up some possibilities and concepts that we need to talk about.
Director of Transportation and Safety
Port Neches-Groves (Texas) Independent
School District

I deeply feel that we need to beef up our on-site security in regard to where the buses are parked. We don’t have any surveillance on our bus lot. I really think that’s an issue. We have a really good pre-service instructor here in this region, and he stresses looking for anything that might be a potential bomb.
Transportation Coordinator
Princeton City School District
Cincinnati {+PAGEBREAK+} We just re-did our crisis plan, but I don’t have anything about bomb threats in my bus manual. So now, I’m going to incorporate a lot of the procedures we learned at the demonstration this morning into the manual. We already have that in effect for the schools, but times are changing, and we need to involve that on the school buses, too.
Coordinator of Transportation and School Safety
South Harrison Community Schools
Corydon, Ind.

I’m going to take back the information I got today at the demonstration. This was a real eye-opener. Sitting there waiting for the bus to explode, I got sick to my stomach thinking of the possibilities. It’s around the corner — we might as well face it. I think it will be a good reminder for the drivers on how important it is to pre-trip their buses.
Director of Transportation
Montgomery County Schools
Mt. Sterling, Ky.


NAPT 2004 poster contest winners

1st Place
Tiffany Shin
Hilldale School
Pinebrook, N.J.

2nd Place
Nick Chin
Meadows School
Las Vegas

3rd Place
Madison Becka
Hermes Elementary
La Grange, Texas

1st Place
Jessie Nevendorff
La Grange Intermediate
La Grange, Texas

2nd Place Eric Lau
Southwest Elementary
Savannah, Ga.

3rd Place Matthew Hauck
Zillah Intermediate
Zillah, Wash.

1st Place
*Adriana Terrazas
Lucio Middle School
Brownsville, Texas

2nd Place
Jason Wright
Middle School
Westphalia, Kan.

3rd Place
Lauren Canavaciol
Weldon Hewitt
Middle School
Farmingdale, N.Y.

DIVISION IV (Special Needs)
1st Place
Darryl Armstrong
James E. Allen Jr.
High Melville, N.Y.

2nd Place
Katlyn Joyce
Central Jr. High
Evergreen Park, Ill.

3rd Place
Shameka Hardy
Surry County High School
Dendron, Va.

DIVISION V (Computer-Assisted Design)
1st Place
Julio Torres
Pasadena High School
Pasadena, Texas

2nd Place
Dustin Spurling
Crook County High School
Prineville, Ore.

3rd Place
Shevar Foster and Chris Glass
Ridgeview High School
Columbia, S.C.

No entries

*Grand prize winner