School transportation system requires support
|School district transportation department employee Scott Robertson refuels a bus in preparation to transport students to and from classrooms.|
The school transportation procedure seems relatively simple.
Drive a bus to point A to pick up students near the youth's homes, then drive it to point B to drop the children off at school. Then reverse the process in the afternoon when the kids are dismissed from school. It does not seem very difficult..
But the procedure becomes more complicated when a number of other items are thrown into the mix.
The factors include expense and budgets, safety, fuel costs, discipline, weather, maintenance on the equipment, routing, special buses for challenged students, activities, athletic and out of state trips, replacement units and traffic problems.
"There is no one in the school system who has more direct responsibility for students' safety than a bus driver," said Regina McCourt, Carbon School District's director of transportation. "They can have between 80 and 90 students on a bus, driving in bad weather with traffic all around them, and their backs are to the kids. It's a hard job."
The director manages a department with 50 regular routes that employs 39 buses and 40 licensed drivers to complete the task of transporting students on a daily basis.
The transportation department also makes sure students reach athletic events, school choir and band competitions, debate meets and various events in other parts of the state safely and efficiently.
The typical school bus costs around $100,000. If the vehicles have a lift installed, the price increases by about $10,000.
The fiscal responsibility a driver has is immense but it is nothing in comparison to the lives they have in their hands.
"Just think about it," said McCourt. "A driver is always multi-tasking. They have to have a dozen things on their minds between what the kids are doing behind them to the traffic around them. And they usually have to perform all this with a great deal of noise going on around them as well."
The director knows first hand about what goes on in a bus. She started as a substitute bus driver for the district 21 years ago. She eventually became the secretary to the director and also served as a driver trainer and route coordinator before being appointed to her current position in 2000.
"Our drivers are required to have a pre employment background check, be randomly drug and alcohol tested and have a yearly drivers license check," stated McCourt. "In addition to a commercial drivers license, they are required to have a school bus endorsement which entails 46 extensive hours of Utah state certified school bus instruction. They have to pass that with an 80 percent grade. On top of that, each driver is required to attend eight hours of in-service per year and 30 hours of recertification every five years."
With 39 buses, the district transports 1,850 students to and from school each day. The routine puts 1,743 miles on the buses each day or 313,740 miles per year. Buses are purchased based on a 15-year, 200,000 mile life span.
"Bus drivers don't get a lot of kudos," stated McCourt. "But most of them really love what they do."
The drivers are the ones on the road, the ones students and parents deal with and the obvious employees of the department. But behind the scenes, as always, is cadre of personnel that keep the buses as well as other vehicles in the district running. Aircraft pilots know how important a good mechanic is, bus drivers know the same thing about the people that keep them on the road.
"In our shop we not only take care of the districts buses, but also the other vehicles that are used by district personnel," said McCourt as she wandered through the shop. Four people work in the shop including an assistant supervisor, two mechanics with different responsibilities and a maintenance specialist. McCourt says to call any of them only one thing is a misnomer because in the bus/vehicle maintenance compound "everyone wears many hats."
|Scott Robertson, Kathy Price, Alan Edwards and Rich Ghrist stand in front of one of the new 'pusher' buses. They keep the buses and other district vehicles clean and running right at the shops west of Carbon High School.|
On the day the Sun Advocate visited the shop Alan Edwards was putting a storage door on a bus back into shape, Rich Ghrist was installing a radio in a district truck, Kathy Price was cleaning buses and Scott Robertson had just finished doing some work on a bus and was fueling it up.
McCourt pointed out that all the buses in the district now have automatic transmissions and that the five newest buses are what is called "pushers" or rear engined buses.
"The drivers really like these new buses," said McCourt. "The driver compartment is much quieter with the engine in the back and the units are very efficient on slick roads. With the weight of the engine being in the rear it has eliminated the need for chains.
Chains on front engine buses have always been important, particularly on the run to Scofield. But that run no longer exists because there are no children in that town that go to school in the valley anymore. If some were to move in, the district would compensate them for finding their own transportation.
"It takes 10 kids to make a regular route or a wheelchair bound student with five kids," explained McCourt.
Robertson raised the hood on the back of a pusher bus and spent some time explaining the workings of the big Cummins diesel that powers the unit.
McCourt pointed out that Carbon's buses are very unique.
"Haven't you ever noticed that the wheels are red on our buses?" she asked. "We have the only red wheel buses in the state. Most districts buses wheels are black, a few are yellow and one has white. We have red."
That tradition was started by Bill Gentry, a former supervisor of transportation for the district until 1987 when he retired.
"I guess one day he was out looking for one of our buses coming down the road and there were a number of school buses headed in the opposite direction," said McCourt. "You know when you are in the opposite lane the vehicles pass by so fast you can read the district on the side. He decided after that that Carbon's buses would all have red wheels so it would be easy to spot them."
In the years since every bus that comes into the shop gets its wheels painted red.
"It has been very useful over the years," stated McCourt. "When buses from various districts are lined up in a big parking lot during an activity or an athletic event it is easy for the kids and the coaches to spot our buses."
Of the 40 drivers only five positions are full time. The rest are part time drivers, many of them because that is what they want to be. Out of town trips are almost always taken by part time drivers.
"There is a lot of competition to get those out of town trips because since the part time people have no benefits the extra money attracts them," explained McCourt. "Many of them really enjoy going with the kids to events and watching the students perform."
Over the years Carbon's bus drivers have had a very good accident record. In all the years that McCourt has been associated with the transportation department she says she can only remember one deer that was ever hit by a bus. But other hand some things have run into buses.
"A few years ago a driver was coming back from the Scofield route after he had dropped the kids off," said McCourt. "A rock fell off Castlegate and landed on top of the bus and punched a hole through the roof. The rock didn't come through all the way, but it did make a hole."
To everyone in the department, safety is always a priority. So is service.
"I've always been impressed with our drivers. When we have a crisis, they all pull together co cover all the stops. We have some incredible people driving our buses because they are always willing to take care of each other as well as the children. They all have a genuine interest in the care and safety of kids," concluded McCourt.
Editors note: This is the first in a series of four articles on support services in Carbon School District.