RICHMOND, Va. — Whether it's saving money on fuel or keeping an important event afloat, Pam McDonald knows how to make it happen: partnerships.
Those partnerships might be with her colleagues at other school districts or with school bus industry suppliers. In either case, McDonald, who is the director of transportation and mechanical services at Orange (Calif.) Unified School District (USD), has built vital connections that have helped strengthen the pupil transportation community.
For her role as a unifying force in the industry, her many contributions to state and national associations, and her continual efforts to run a safe and efficient operation, McDonald has been named School Bus Fleet's 2015 Administrator of the Year.
SBF Executive Editor Thomas McMahon presented the award to McDonald at the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) Summit in Richmond on Sunday.
While McDonald has long been a leader in the school bus industry, she got her start behind the wheel. As a 19-year-old, she began working as a school bus driver at Orange USD while attending community college in 1986.
McDonald's plan was to become a police officer, but the opportunities at Orange USD — and a newfound passion for pupil transportation — soon had her hooked.
"You start bleeding yellow, and then you can't get it out of your system," McDonald said.
After about five years as a driver, McDonald landed a job in the dispatch office. From there, she kept getting promoted, eventually ending up in the director's chair.
Throughout two decades in school transportation management, McDonald has made an impact at the local, state and national levels.
Within Orange County, she was instrumental in the creation of countywide mutual service agreements that allow neighboring school districts to work together by transporting each other's students when needed and by purchasing fuel in bulk.
"It gives us more buying power, so we get a better rate," McDonald said.
McDonald has served in numerous leadership roles in the California Association of School Transportation Officials (CASTO), including a term as president that began in 2009. During that time, with the recession in full swing, "school districts weren't sending anybody to conferences," McDonald said.
The lack of financial resources led CASTO to cancel its highly regarded School Transportation Business Management Forum in 2009, but then McDonald tapped into her strong relationships with industry suppliers to bring the event back the following year. The suppliers' sponsorships enabled CASTO members to attend without having to pay a registration fee, which had previously been around $300.
On the national scene, McDonald has chaired NAPT's elections committee for the past four years, and she served as a delegate for the past two editions of the National Congress on School Transportation.
An in-depth profile of McDonald will appear in the January issue of SBF.