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Grissom column: Buses cover more than 2 million miles a year

“The wheels on the bus go ’round and ’round!” Transporting students to and from school in big yellow buses is often taken for granted, but it is indeed an integral part of our school system.
Each day the school system’s 195 buses travel 13,152 miles and safely transport almost 11,000 students to and from school sites. Thus, our buses travel 2,376,360 miles each year. The school system employs over 200 bus drivers, most of whom are also employed as teacher assistants. All drivers meet at the beginning of each school year to review safety policies and procedures and to work on their bus routes. Substitute drivers work into our system by actually riding and driving with veteran drivers over a period of two to three days. During the year, bus driver classes are held at the Transportation Department under the supervision of a state Driver Education Specialist. Regular bus drivers and activity bus drivers must complete renewal training before their Commercial Drivers License (CDL) expires.
Our Transportation Department is located on Old Concord Road with offices for clerical staff, a renovated garage for maintenance and drivers’ education, and an eight-bay facility that can accommodate our large new 2008 Freightliner C-2s that weigh 31,000 pounds, have a length of 40 feet, and can transport 72 passengers. These larger buses are equipped with LED lighting and are air-conditioned. At least 50 of our buses are equipped with security cameras. We continue to try to find ways to increase the number of cameras on our buses to improve student safety and discipline.
The Transportation Department staff consists of a shop foreman, a parts manager, eight mechanics, a tire installer, two fuelers, an administrative assistant who also handles student transfers, a cost clerk, activity bus coordinator, a TIMS coordinator, three route supervisors, and a custodian. All of these employees have specialized skills to help with the following programs: regular school, alternative school, Expeditions, No Child Left Behind choice schools, Title I, Pre-K, Exceptional Children’s Pre-K, after school programs, Saturday programs, field trips, summer school and other summer programs, and next fall’s opening of the Early College. Mechanics by state law must complete 30-day inspections on all buses and parts must be stocked for a fleet of 1988 to 2008 buses.
The Transportation Department promotes bus safety through many activities for their staff and for the students. One of the elementary students’ favorites is Buster the Bus. Buster is a fully animated remote controlled school bus robot. He travels from school to school sharing his message about school bus safety. Buster is just the right size for children and can blink, wink, move his eyes and even smile.
Bus drivers deserve recognition for their challenging day-to-day job delivering students in rain, wind and those unexpected snow or sleet days. Bus drivers enjoy participating in the State Bus Roadeo, a driving skills competition with prizes for the winners. The Rowan-Salisbury School System has a program whereby outstanding bus drivers are recognized each month. The bus coordinators nominate drivers, using specific criteria, such as bus cleanliness, no non-chargeable accidents, attendance, complaints, etc. The Route Supervisors then select one driver for each of the six school system attendance areas. This year each driver chosen received a certificate, a gift card to Wal-Mart, and recognition in the Salisbury Post and systemwide newsletter.
The Transportation Department just received the 2008 Clean Fuel Advanced Technology (CFAT) Grant in the amount of $120,000. The grant will fund the purchase and installation of 24 diesel particulate filters that will reduce school bus emissions in an effort to help improve the current poor air quality in our county. The NC Department of Public Instruction has committed an additional $30,000 to this project, recognizing our Transportation Department for taking this clean air initiative. The effort to improve air quality will continue to be a priority for our school system.
Our school system appreciates the hard work of our transportation employees and our bus drivers. We could not run our school system as effectively and efficiently without their outstanding contributions.
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Dr. Judy Grissom is superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury Schools System.

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