Risk Management
  • Caught In the Act! By:

    An American President once called for our nation to look for ‘a thousand points of light’ around our communities and neighborhoods. His call was for us to find ways to unite and to see the good in one another while also encouraging us all to find ways to help one another.  In that same spirit, I got to thinking over the holiday season that there are thousands of school bus drivers (points of light?) who not only do good work in transporting our children each day, but who also go above and beyond what the job expects. For instance, back in 2011 during Hurricane Irene which traveled up to New York State, dozens of young campers from NYC were stranded in the Catskills and needed to get home. Four drivers from the Delhi school district agreed to drive into the hills to get to those children. Because of the widespread flooding, they were accompanied by state police escorts. Over nearly eight hours, they drove them out of the storm into New York City and to safety. And recently, I was touched by the CBS story about Curtis Jenkins, the school bus driver in Texas who invested in creating a positive community on his school bus and treated each child as an individual. “I put time, effort, love and care, understanding each and every one of those kids,” Jenkins told the interviewers. Click here to read the story. Clearly, drivers don’t all have to be heroes and rescuers or TV news features to earn our attention and respect. So many of them do their jobs admirably and often do not get the credit they deserve. School Bus Driver Appreciation Days are wonderful moments in time that allow us to recognize them for the valuable work that they do…but are they really sufficient? Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could now and again ‘catch’ our drivers in the act of doing something special for a child or a parent or a fellow driver or aide? It wouldn’t take much and certainly wouldn’t cost much to do. A state office I worked at had a program which encouraged employees to take a half page pre-printed note, fill in the blanks and present it to a co-worker who had done something beyond the call or that was just ‘nice’. It created community and mutual respect and even some laughter at the things that people did or how they were celebrated. Especially at a time when we are struggling to find and to retain drivers and other staff, it becomes important that we create a positive workplace that engenders employee engagement and enthusiasm. GALLUP (a national survey and polling company) suggests that ‘employee engagement is a foundational component to workplace outcomes.’ Hundreds of companies, domestic and overseas, invest in employee recognition efforts from the simplest to the more involved…for that very purpose of incenting employee engagement and garnering employee enthusiasm. And they will tell you that it works! Our own industry surveys draw us to similar conclusions. Drivers have made clear that the wages/benefits/hours are an issue to be addressed. But they have also told us that work environment, management support, recognition, and community are just as critical. That fact makes it incumbent on us all to pay attention and to do all we can to recognize and celebrate drivers, not just once a year but every day of the year. We all know how often the media and even school officials and parents are critical of bus drivers when they do something incorrectly or inappropriately or even illegally. As I searched for stories about drivers for this article, the vast majority were about drivers who did things wrong and were headlined in the local and even national media. In each case, the criticism may have been deserved and, in those cases, hopefully the drivers and our profession learned something from it that will improve our future efforts. But the dearth of ‘positive’ stories was striking. Methinks it’s time to change that and get those good stories into circulation. That would allow our drivers and our industry to ‘bank’ those positive stories as a balance of sorts to the mistakes and wrongdoing that will inevitably occur and be covered widely. And to be clear, I do not in any way minimize the dangers and impact of such occurrences on our children. Indeed, I see them as hurting our industry and in need of correction and prevention. But that doesn’t lessen the need to promote the good and the positive. Maybe it’s time for school bus drivers to be ‘caught in the act’ of doing good! What say you? It’s a new year with everyone telling us what they are doing to improve themselves and make things better in their world. Isn’t this something that we can resolve to do as a profession and an industry? Catch a driver in the act of goodness and then make their day with a smile and a good word. I don’t know about you, but I think it could work! Give it a try and wait to hear more on this idea! Peter Mannella (pfman5@gmail.com) is chair of the NAPT Public Policy Committee.

  • 5 Essential Lift Safety Tips By:

    Stay safe and avoid noncompliance fines The vehicle lifts that are supporting the school buses in your garage can represent one of the most productive tools in your shop, or potentially one of the most dangerous pieces of equipment you own if not used and maintained properly. If there were an incident in your garage involving a vehicle lift, OSHA would ask you three questions: What did you know? When did you know it? What did you do about it? Complying with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health (PEOSH) requirements ensure vehicle lifts are kept at the highest possible safety level. Following these safety tips ensure your technicians are kept safe and that noncompliance fines are avoided. 1. Buy certified lifts & options There’s one and only one nationally recognized safety standard for vehicle lifts: ANSI-ALI/ALCTV, administered by the Automotive Lift Institute (www.autolift.org). The Automotive Lift Institute, working though ETL testing procedures, involves rigorous third-party testing verifying lift manufacturers meet and comply with current ALI requirements for lifts as defined by the International Building Code, which mandates that lifts be third party tested to meet these safety requirements. Most every state has building code rules that shops have to follow. To verify equipment status, look for the gold ALI/ETL certification tag next to the lift’s controls. Beware that using an uncertified option voids the lift’s certification. ANSI/ALI standards for Operation, Inspection, and Maintenance (ALOIM 8. Replacement Parts) as well as Installation and Service (ALIS 6.2.6 Repair Service Parts) require all accessories, such as rolling jacks, truck adaptors, lighting for runway lifts, and special lifting pads, to be ALI/ETL certified. ALI/ETL standards (& ANSI standards & building code standards) require all accessories, such as drive-thru runways, rolling jacks, truck adaptors, lighting for runway lifts, and special lifting pads, to be certified. Although certification is good for the life to lift, older models may not meet the most current standards, which typically change every five to seven years. Some lifts and options that were certified in 2000 wouldn’t pass the 2011 standard. 2. No locks = liability You’ve heard the phrase, “Never use a jack without a jack-stand.” The same is true for vehicle lifts. Always raise the vehicle and then lower it onto the lift’s mechanical locks as suggested by the manufacturer and required by ANSI. Refer to ALI safety manual Lifting it Right or the manufacturer’s operating instructions for detailed information. When you’re walking through the shop, make sure techs are using the proper procedure. An easy way to visually verify the locks are being used is to include a weight gauge on your lift. The weight gauge must be made by the same manufacturer so it will be properly calibrated to the lift cylinder size. When you walk by a lift and the weight gauge reads anything but “0”, the tech in that bay hasn’t lowered the lift onto the mechanical locks. 3. It’s easy to overload Manufacturers of the most common lift – two post, side-by side lifts – mandate that none of the four swing arms be overloaded. Unfortunately, overloading of lifts happens more than realized. For example, some may think that a 12,000-pound rated lift that’s loaded with an 11,500-pound vehicle isn’t near capacity. They would be wrong. If this vehicle has a front axle weight of 4,500 pounds and back axle weight of 7,000 pounds. The per-arm capacity of a 12,000-pound rated lift is 3,000 pounds. If the heavier rear end of a vehicle weighs 7,000 pounds, each swing arm needs a minimum arm capacity of 3,500 pounds for safe lifting. Multiply this example by four swing arms and the minimum capacity of your lift for this vehicle should be 14,000 pounds. It’s easy to see why two-post, side-by sidelifts are often overloaded, even though the total lift capacity hasn’t been exceeded. Look around your shop and determine if any lifts are being overloaded based on the heavy rear ends of certain vehicles. 4. Inspect equipment annually ANSI/Automotive Lift Institute ALCTV Standard for Automotive Lifts – “Safety Requirements for Construction, Testing, and Validation” requires technicians to perform a daily operational safety check. ANSI also requires an annual inspection by a qualified individual. Failing to do so exposes your shop to liabilities that could be associated with an injury if an accident were to happen. Contact your manufacturer or garage equipment sales company to schedule an inspection. 5. Training and testing Like any product, lifts vary in style, type, capability, longevity, and warranty. ANSI requires technicians to be trained annually in proper lift use. This may seem unnecessary, yet think of everyone who drives a forklift in your facility who is required to take and pass an annual safety test. The test results are added to each employee’s file in case of a forklift incident. The same applies to vehicle lifts. Contact the Automotive Lift Institute, your lift supplier, or a local lift inspection company for a copy of the 20-minute Lifting it Right video hosted by legendary NASCAR driver Richard “The King” Petty and his son, Kyle. Require your technicians to watch the video and pass a written test on lift operation and safety. And remember – our lifts are available on nationwide government contract, making them a perfect fit for publicly-operated school districts. Steve Perlstein serves as sales & marketing manager for Mohawk Lifts, Amsterdam, NY. Visit www.mohawklifts.com for more information.

Special Needs
  • A Formula for Specialized Transportation Decision-Making at Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team Meetings By:

    An Individualized Education Program, commonly known as an IEP, is a child-specific written document to ensure that a child with an identified disability attending school receives appropriate specialized instruction and related services. “Related services means transportation and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education…”  Historically, the IEP has been described as the centerpiece of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). All aspects of the special education and related services are regulated and implemented in a child’s IEP. The IEP Team is required to address specialized transportation for a child determined eligible to receive this related service. Transportation is provided based on an individual child’s specialized transportation needs that are approved by the IEP Team prior to implementation.  The related service transportation is defined in the IDEA as follows: 1. “Travel to and from school and between schools,  2. Travel in and around school buildings, and  3. Specialized equipment (such as special or adapted buses, lifts, and ramps), if required to provide special transportation for a child with a disability. (34 CFR §300.34 (c)(16))” There are two main parts to the IEP process: (1) the IEP team meeting(s), when parents and school district personnel make decisions about a child’s special education and related services, and (2) the IEP itself, which is a written record of the decisions agreed upon at the IEP team meeting. The IEP delineates the required resources and services to be provided to a child at no cost, and the duration and amount of services that will be provided. The IEP is used to monitor IDEA compliance for an individual child.  Specialized transportation decisions requires addressing each child’s explicit needs case by case. The following are suggested topics that may be discussed at an IEP team meeting to support a safe ride. 1. Allergies 2. Alternative Vehicle Selection  3. Climate Control Vehicle 4. Diastat Transport & Administration 5. Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Orders 6. Driver and Attendant Assignment 7. Epi-Pen Transport & Use 8. Length of Ride Time 9. Medication Transport & Use 10. Nursing Services 11. Oxygen Transport & Use 12. Participation in Evacuation Drills 13. Pick-up and Drop-off  Location 14. Pick-up and Drop-off  Times 15. Regular versus Specialized Route Assignment 16. Required Training (Drivers & Attendant) 17. Service Animals  18. Specialized Equipment 19. Specialized Seating 20. Supervision This list is not exclusive. Additional issues and concerns may be raised by IEP team members to focus on an individual child’s specialized transportation needs.  Determining when a transportation representative should attend an IEP team meeting is a critical consideration for providing a safe ride. Transportation personnel attendance at IEP meetings may be required to provide dispatchers, drivers, attendants and other transportation personnel with imperative child specific information.  The following list of questions provides a starting point for when a transportation representative should consider attending and/or participating in an IEP team meeting? This checklist is not all inclusive. • Is this the first time a child with a disability is eligible for the related service transportation? • If a child with a disability has previously received the related service transportation has anything changed? • What transportation services are to be discussed and documented on the child’s IEP? • What is the impact of  a child’s disability on the need for specialized transportation services? -Behavior Management Issues and Concerns -Medical Issues and Concerns -Specialized Equipment Needs • Can the child with a disability ride on a regular school bus route? • Does the child require specialized transportation services? (Describe) • What is the age of the child with a disability? • What level of supervision does the child with a disability require? • Where is the IEP and related service(s) school assignment location? • What other factors may impact safe ridership? In summary, safe transportation for children with specialized transportation needs are complex and requires transportation personnel to be fully informed about an individual child’s IEP specialized transportation service needs. This can only be accomplished when transportation personnel are included in the IEP team meeting process, as appropriate.  Unequivocally, as a special needs transportation policy specialist for over 40 years and expert witness, with more than 25 years of experience, I can confidently share that too many school transportation litigation cases have ruled favorably for plaintiff’s when transportation personnel are not invited to attend the IEP Team Meeting and/or informed about transportation decisions made at an IEP meeting. A change in this irresponsible and negligent practice is long overdue. Linda F. Bluth, Ed.D. (linda.bluth@napt.org) is one of the nation’s foremost experts on special needs transportation. She currently serves as Special Needs Consultant for the National Association for Pupil Transportation® (NAPT).

  • Liberty Public Schools Earns Fleet Excellence Award with Propane School Buses By:

    Liberty Public Schools is a 17-campus school district that sits just outside Kansas City, Missouri, and encompasses 85 square miles. The district runs 143 bus routes for 4,200 students daily, requiring the use of 88 school buses. In 2019, several of those buses were diesel models that were aging out of their lifecycle. In 2020, the district replaced 10 outdated diesel buses with propane buses, and an additional seven propane buses are on order for 2022 delivery. Migrating to a Cleaner Fuel When more than a dozen of the district’s diesel buses were approaching the end of their lifecycle, Jeff Baird, director of transportation for Liberty Public Schools, began researching replacement options. High on the list of qualifiers were cleaner-burning fuel, low maintenance costs and low fuel costs. During their research, Baird and his team learned that propane autogas engine technology is so advanced that harmful emissions are near zero, which is why it’s the most widely used alternative fuel for school buses.  After doing extensive research on ROUSH CleanTech’s innovative engineering, the district made the choice to purchase new school buses fueled by propane autogas rather than diesel or gasoline. Propane autogas school buses virtually eliminate particulate matter (black smoke) without adding maintenance burdens and extra costs to the fleet like diesel does.  In 2020, Liberty Public Schools purchased 10 Blue Bird Vision Propane buses powered by ROUSH CleanTech technology to replace outdated diesel buses. The district was able to equip the school buses with child safety seats in the first 10 seats so they are used not only for regular routes, but for special needs routes and field trips, too. Invested in the Environment and Students The propane school buses benefit not only Liberty Public Schools students and drivers, but the surrounding community since they significantly cut harmful emissions. Propane autogas is a nontoxic, non-carcinogenic and non-corrosive fuel. “Our leadership takes a responsible look toward emission control and is invested in lowering the carbon footprint created by district vehicles,” Baird said.   According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, propane emits fewer greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline, diesel and electricity in a variety of end-use applications. In fact, 24 propane buses emit less nitrogen oxides than one diesel school bus manufactured between 2007 and 2010. The health benefits extend beyond the environment. A Georgia State study correlated increased academic performance when children were exposed to lower levels of harmful school bus emissions. Student test scores improved in both math and English when alternative fuels like propane autogas replaced diesel. Baird added that “taking care of our students’ needs is top priority because they’ve sacrificed so much during the pandemic, and our propane buses help us do that.” Budget Benefits The district tracks pricing for diesel, gasoline and propane autogas because it currently operates buses that use all three fuels. The district currently pays $3.90 per gallon for diesel and $.79 per gallon for propane. “In the current economy, the savings over diesel has been considerable,” Baird said. “At $.79 per gallon for propane, we’re saving between $2.80 and $3.11 on fuel with our propane buses.” To measure budgetary success, Liberty Public Schools monitors the following metrics: gas mileage, reliability and repair costs. The current propane bus fleet drove 125,000 miles the first year, with a total fuel cost of $24,688. That same year, the district spent $81,250 on 10 diesel buses. The fuel savings when comparing diesel to propane autogas in the first year was $56,562. One of the reasons propane is so inexpensive when compared to other fuels is that propane is a domestic fuel. More than 90 percent of the U.S. propane supply is processed in the nation, with an additional 7 percent from Canada. In addition, Missouri has access to dependable propane supplies through six terminals statewide. “Road reliability is important to the district,” Baird said. “If a diesel bus needs an engine replacement, it costs $30,000. If a propane engine needs replacement, it costs about $8,500. This fact alone is expected to increase the average lifespan of a propane bus 18,000 miles over diesel — about a year and a half.” Regarding repair cost savings, Baird estimates that the district will save approximately $23,000 on exhaust maintenance compared to its diesel buses since exhaust maintenance is not part of a propane bus drive train. Baird said that “all savings go back to the classroom. The first-year fuel savings is enough to support one classroom teacher.” Fleet Excellence Propane autogas makes sense for Liberty Public Schools’ commitment to maintenance integrity and asset longevity. The district’s propane school buses will lower total cost of ownership by saving on maintenance-related expenses and manpower. “We operate a fleet with the philosophy that we have good maintenance and solid preventative maintenance,” Baird said.  With the addition of propane buses, the shop earned the fleet excellence award given by the state highway patrol to districts that are excellent at maintaining their fleet. In order to meet emission standards, today’s diesel buses require expensive equipment and high-maintenance systems, which aren’t required on propane buses. Diesel buses require components that need to be maintained, including diesel particulate filters, manual regeneration and diesel exhaust fluid, and other complex after-treatment devices. While clean diesel can be cleaner than pre-2007 school bus models by employing those complex and costly after treatments, propane is cleaner by its very molecular, low carbon composition. Liberty Public Schools school bus technicians report a clean, safe and efficient work environment because propane vehicle maintenance is faster, easier and less costly compared to vehicles that run on diesel or gasoline. For its propane buses, the district performs oil changes every six months or 5,000 miles. The Blue Bird Vision Propane takes 7 quarts of oil; diesel engines take over 30 quarts of oil. A diesel oil filter itself costs two to three times more than a gasoline or propane autogas oil filter. “Our experience with ROUSH CleanTech made a big difference in our decision to purchase. They conducted initial training Read More >