NAPT Executive Director Mike Martin (right) led a discussion of driver shortage at School Bus eXchange.

NAPT Executive Director Mike Martin (right) led a discussion of driver shortage at School Bus eXchange.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — School bus driver shortage, alternative fuels, and student behavior on the bus were key topics of discussion at the 2018 School Bus eXchange (SBX).

The event, produced by the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) and School Bus Fleet, took place Monday to Wednesday in Scottsdale. More than 30 public and private school bus operators and 25 manufacturers and supplier companies participated in the 2018 edition of SBX.

The event kicked off with a keynote address by Linda Bluth, a special-needs transportation expert and past NAPT president. In a follow-up to her presentation at last year’s SBX, Bluth discussed the policies of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who is a proponent of school choice, charter schools, and vouchers to enable students to attend private schools with public funding.

Bluth noted that transportation has been found to be a barrier to school choice — for example, charter and magnet schools often don’t provide school bus service. If more parents choose to send their children to those types of nontraditional schools, one of the side effects could be that fewer students will ride school buses.

Bluth exhorted SBX attendees — and the industry in general — to find ways to contribute their expertise on safe transportation to the school reform efforts.

In another SBX session, NAPT Executive Director Mike Martin led a discussion of school bus driver shortage, which remains a top challenge throughout the industry. Martin asked attendees what has been working for them when it comes to recruiting and retaining drivers.

Greg Jackson, executive director of transportation and fleet services for Jefferson County (Colo.) Public Schools, said that one of his efforts related to driver retention has been aimed at improving student discipline. His department partnered with schools to implement a PBIS (positive behavioral intervention and supports)-type program. Jackson said that the program gives attention to good behavior rather than bad behavior, while recognizing that some students might need extra help in this area.

“We need to give them some support and put them in the right direction,” Jackson said.

Margarito Casillas, assistant director of transportation for Vail (Ariz.) Unified School District, said that he has worked to boost driver morale in his department by “doing some of the small things.” That has included attendance and retention bonuses, birthday cards signed by the whole administrative staff, and the formation of a committee called BUS (“Bring Us Solutions”) that is working to improve the culture of the department. Maintaining a strong relationship with the district’s HR team has also helped with driver recruitment and retention.

“We work well with the human resources department,” Casillas said. “I think that’s very key.”

Also at SBX, SBF General Manager James Blue led a panel session in which officials from Blue Bird, IC Bus, and Thomas Built Buses answered questions about alternative fuels, covering such issues as total cost of ownership, emissions, and fueling infrastructure.

Another SBX roundtable session focused on challenges with student behavior on the bus.

Another SBX roundtable session focused on challenges with student behavior on the bus.

In another session, Linda Bluth engaged with SBX attendees on the subject of student behavior on the school bus. Bluth recommended that transportation directors promote the concept of the school bus being an extension of the classroom, with the same expectations for discipline and support from school administrators.

“Students need to know the consequences [of misbehavior],” Bluth said. “Superintendents have to support that the principal is responsible for behavior on the bus.”

More coverage of the 2018 SBX will appear in the June issue of SBF.

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