Michael Wagner began working as an educator in the Chicagoland area, first as a special-education teacher, and eventually becoming Dean of Students. After several years, he made the move to pupil transportation, taking a job at Cook-Illinois Corp. in 1978 and working his way up from general manager to senior executive vice president.
Ever since, Wagner has worked tirelessly to help improve transportation for students, especially those with special needs. He embarked upon this lifelong endeavor at a time when few, if any, standards for transporting special-needs students existed.
Most notably, early on in his career in pupil transportation, he helped develop the first national standard for transportation of students with wheelchairs, and was instrumental in starting an annual conference on transporting special-needs students.
Wagner has also been a champion for small school bus companies. His colleagues commend him for helping them to grow their businesses, make connections, and build relationships. One associate, Donald Fowler, president of Fowler Bus Co., in Richmond, Mo., described him as “always in the background helping people, giving advice, and never taking credit.”
Wagner has continued to help others in the industry as he has expanded his own company. After joining Lakeview Bus Lines in 2007, he has helped to grow the operation from 40 buses to the 250 it runs today, transporting more than 5,000 students daily.
Lakeview Bus Lines also boasts a nearly 90% driver retention rate. This could be due to the fact that Wagner puts a premium on creating a supportive work environment, and even gets behind the wheel himself when necessary.
Going beyond his efforts at work, Wagner has also committed to helping people with disabilities. He has served on several local, state, and national boards, as well as the board of directors for the United Cerebral Palsy Association, and regularly donates to the Special Olympics.
For his dedication to safe student transportation, special-needs students in particular, and always being willing to lend a hand to a small school bus business, SBF named Michael Wagner its 2019 Contractor of the Year. SBF Associate Publisher Mark Hollenbeck presented the award at the National School Transportation Association’s annual meeting in Austin, Tex., on Tuesday.
A profile of Wagner and Lakeview Bus Lines will appear in SBF’s September issue.