South Bend school board hears transportation updates
SOUTH BEND, Mar 05, 2013 (South Bend Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Tiffany Reddick has only been with the transportation department since the beginning of the school year, but she's already making changes in the department's future.
Reddick, along with other department staff, presented at Monday's meeting of the South Bend Community School Corp. board. The presentation included changes the department has and will adopt based on suggestions from a 2011 study by Crowe Horwath and work with Notre Dame graduate fellows.
"I've kind of taken the bull by the horns since I got there, just because this needs to get done," Reddick said after the meeting. "The biggest thing is building up our training. I want to put the emphasis at the beginning to get the best people in positions. Our ultimate goal is the online staff training. Just be patient with us -- we are working hard to improve the quality of service. We have a surprisingly small staff."
The presentation touched on current and future improvements to finances, structure and systems, and operations for the department. Work on improvements really began with the start of the school year, according to Michael Nolen, interim director of transportation.
Reddick, who acts as safety and training supervisor, said the department is addressing concerns about not having written procedures or training for supervisors, drivers and other staff by cross-training, and that they hope to eventually create online training tutorials for all positions through a Wiki page.
The 2011 study voiced concern about training because there was no established training manual, instead relying on knowledge passed from person to person. With retirement or resignations, critical information could easily be lost, the study said.
The department is also working on updating its payroll system and other training modules, Reddick said. There are different possibilities for the payroll system, including a program by the company that already provides GPS service for the department's bus fleet.
Beyond changes to training, Nolen also spoke on changes to routes and technology in the department, including new routes and software to give parents more information on bus locations and arrival times.
The staff members did an internal audit of all routes, Nolen said. Though an external, complete review of the routes has not been done yet, Nolen said, the internal review showed that four bus driver positions could be eliminated.
Nolen also said changes from year to year in busing needs also played a factor in the eliminations.
Also eliminated were six buses from the fleet, after the study suggested that the bus replacement cycle could be stretched, according to the presentation. Fuel costs were also hedged with the 2013 budget, bringing the cost of fuel per gallon for the fleet in under budget, according to Nolen.
Parents will also have more information about their children's routes, according to Nolen. Through School Messenger, which the entire school district will be rolling out soon, parents will be able to get digital information about all aspects of their child's education, including bus information.
Through My Stop, a program just for the transportation department, parents can log on to a web-based portal to check the status of a bus. The program will begin in limited use before the end of the school year, Nolen said.
"School Messenger will give us the opportunity to mass contact parents with a text, phone call, voicemail, email -- however they choose to be notified," Nolen said in the presentation.
Some suggestions from the study didn't pan out, according to the presentation. Crowe Horwath suggested looking into Medicaid funds for special needs transportation, but the funds would be so small that the administrative costs to recapture them would outweigh any financial gain, Nolen said.
Also suggested was leasing part, if not all, of the fleet as well as leasing tires for the buses. Nolen said it would be impossible to rebuild the size of the fleet if they began leasing, and that a tire leasing option was not practical for the number of buses the district has.
"I felt it was important we address (the suggestions made)," Nolen said. "The school corporation spent money to have that study done."
School board members took time to ask questions and commend department staff on their efforts. Board member William Sniadecki asked Nolen about his retirement, stating that Nolen was asked to stay on last year, despite wanting to retire.
"I'm going to stay to see these things through because I think it's important that these young staff get the mentorship and training they need," Nolen answered.
Nolen also addressed concerns about outdated video equipment on buses, stating that equipment is updated as new buses are bought for the fleet, and that staff members are looking for grants to make more updates.
Staff writer Amanda Gray:
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