Barry Sudduth is the immediate past president of the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) and current executive director of transportation for Stafford County Public Schools (https://www.staffordschools.net/) in Virginia. He also serves as the chair of NAPT’s Professional Growth Committee. Sudduth has served as executive director for the past eight years and prior to his time with Stafford, spent a year and a half in Prince William, Virginia as an operations supervisor. Sudduth also served nine years in Westmoreland County, Virginia and prior to that was a classroom teacher and band director for 12 years.
Sudduth sat down with School BUSRide to discuss his assessment of the pupil transportation industry and his forecast for the coming year.
What are the most pressing pupil transportation issues at the county and state level?
The pressing area right now is that we are losing drivers. I have lost over 10 percent of my fleet of drivers and the neighboring county has lost about the same. The rest of the folks in our region, our smaller divisions, with 30 to 60 buses, are all having trouble too. I would say it is probably one of the most pressing problems. Part of what we have faced in the past is that the unemployment benefits were looking better than coming to work.
What is your assessment of where the association is headed and the general health of the industry at large?
Even though these have been rough times, the industry is really starting to stand up and work together, which is something that I promoted when I was president of NAPT. We all know that ultimately, our goal is the safe transportation of children all over the country. I have been impressed with the direction that the NAPT and the industry at large has taken.
Right after the pandemic hit, NAPT jumped in and started doing professional development courses every week. They were well-received, and I was fortunate to teach a few of them over the summer. I was excited to see people around the country pursuing that education. It worked out well for NAPT and for their members.
As the chair of professional growth for NAPT, how do you see that vital part of the industry proceeding in the wake of social distancing and virtual programming?
I see it as really helping to grow the industry association. It takes innovative thinking. This could have shut everything down. Associations go away and it is critical that people in this industry and any other industry continue to engage with their associations so that they can stay informed on what is going on.
We had a regional discussion with the Virginia Association of Pupil Transportation (VAPT), about our summertime conference. Obviously, things are so up in the air right now that the VAPT board was hesitant to book a conference center and hotel. Instead, they are going to have a virtual conference.
Do I miss the face-to-face? Absolutely. But I have 22 people in my office, and we did not have the funding or the capability to shut down the entire space for four days. The beauty of the virtual conference is that we are now able to participate in the training and that is exciting.
As pupil transportation is restarting in the new year, what do you see as the critical next steps for providers and the industry as a whole?
I think the critical next steps are to continue to promote our brand to our stakeholders, our parents, our students, and our schools, that we are the safest out there. As things get back to normal and we start to get more kids on the bus, it is imperative that we continue to maintain the level of cleaning and disinfection that we are doing right now, because it certainly cannot hurt.
I have always considered my role in transportation the same as my role when I was in the classroom, it is all about educating and protecting the children.