Thursday, March 31, 2011

Super School Buses Appear in SE China

The lo
cal government of Lecong Town, in Guangdong Province, southern China has purchased six "super school buses" that were manufactured in line with American standards; they cost 2,400,000 yuan ($365,760) in total, the Southern Metropolis Daily reports.

The school bus manufacturer in central China say the six buses were made strictly in accordance with the standards of American-made school buses, both in appearance and performance.

The school bus has a classic appearance. It is painted yellow and the bus body is mounted on a cowled medium-duty truck chassis and contains a stop signal arm that uses flashing red lights. The bus has a "long nose" which protrudes forward 1.5 meters, and is designed to absorb the force in a crash so as to provide protection in a head-on collision.

The bus contains 50 seats-47 students' seats, two guardians' and one driver's seat. All seats are equipped with seat belts. The windows are of the closed push-pull design to stop students opening the windows during the trip. In addition to the entry door, all school buses have two emergency exits located in the roof, which can be opened by the use of quick-release latches, the report says.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Selecting and Purchasing a Church Bus

So, you have had the good fortune of being put in charge of selecting and purchasing a new bus for your church. Now what?

You need to acquire a vehicle that is properly equipped to perform as intended for your particular organization. Clearly defining the church's objectives is a very important initial step in the bus purchasing process. If you get the right size bus, with the right engine, the right alternator, from the right dealer, then many of the rest of the issues, such as accessories, will just be a matter of preference.

First, do not confuse purchasing a new bus with purchasing a car. There are many considerations to weigh when buying a new car, but many of them are subjective. Purchasing a new bus is more like purchasing a piece of capital equipment for a business. Success depends on acquiring a vehicle that is properly equipped to perform as intended for your particular organization. Clearly defining the church's objectives is a very important initial step.

First, does your church have a school? Will the bus transport the students who attend that school to various school-related activities? If so, you must purchase a bus that is certified to comply with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) set out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for school buses, or MFSABs. Otherwise, you will be providing transportation to your students in violation of federal law. Please note that this does not apply to transporting school-age children for church-related activities. The age of the passenger is not the issue. The issue is whether the passengers are being transported to and from school, or for school-related activities. Churches are not required to transport children in school buses for church-related activities.

The next step I recommend is identifying a dealer that is equipped to guide you through the process and show you the type of buses that you wish to purchase. Preferably, you should choose a dealer that has the product support capability to assist you with your service or maintenance needs after you take ownership. A bus isn't a new book or a pair of pants that you can return if you don't like it. Our best customers are those who make the effort to become educated buyers. That means visiting dealers to look at buses and considering all of the options.

The next important step is to determine your passenger capacity requirements. It is very difficult to assist someone who doesn't know how many people they need to transport. It's a little like trying to fit an article of clothing for someone who can't tell you their size. Consider the following important points.

A bus that will accommodate more than 15 passengers, including the driver, requires a commercial driver's license (CDL). There are great alternatives to stock 15-passenger vans that provide full standing entry and interior headroom that do not require a CDL. These small buses are essentially mini mini-buses. Their dual rear wheel axles give them a wider stance for greater stability and safety than stock vans, and their spacious interiors and easy access make it actually possible to get 15 people in one without stacking them.

The next size threshold is 24 passengers, which is what most churches purchase. These small buses are most often built on Ford Econoline chassis, which gives them the feel and appearance of a very large van. They are affordable, relatively easy to drive, easy to maneuver in town, and practical to service.

The next size bus will most often be built on a Chevrolet 5500 or International 3200 chassis and will accommodate up to as many as 36 to 40 passengers. These buses often have price tags that exceed $100,000, offer fewer outlets for service and repair, and require greater skill to drive. That is not to suggest that these buses are not a good choice for your church, but it is important to consider the eligibility of drivers for a bus of that size and determine where you will take it for chassis-related warranty work.

Now that we know what size bus will meet your needs, equipping it correctly is important.

Engine Selection
The small buses built on Ford or Chevrolet chassis are available with either gasoline or diesel engines. Historically, diesel has proved to be more reliable in heavy-duty applications, but most churches do not accumulate high mileage on their buses and, consequently, do not realize the benefits that diesel engines provide. For buses below 24 passengers, we recommend a gasoline-powered engine for greater reliability and serviceability. The larger buses with capacities over 24 are often only available with diesel engines, although Chevrolet does offer an 8.1 liter gasoline engine in its 5500 model.

Climate Control
Getting the right air conditioning system in some parts of the United States is critical, just as it is to get adequate heating capacity in the cooler climates. Purchasing from a dealer in your region of the country is important because one size certainly does not fit all. The next size air conditioning system is not that expensive relative to the overall price of the bus; however, it's not an upgrade that can be easily made once the bus is built, so pay attention to this detail.

A bus won't start if the batteries are dead, and that's what the batteries will be if you do not have the right alternator. This is a very important issue on small buses that accommodate 24 passengers or less. Ford's standard 135 amp alternator is adequate for many applications, as it carries Ford's 3 year/36,000 mile warranty and is relatively inexpensive to replace. But, if your usage is mostly local, or if you use your bus as a parking lot shuttle on Sundays, or if you equip your new bus with a wheelchair lift, then you should upgrade the alternator. All of these types of uses suggest low alternator output, many times with the air conditioning system on high. This can discharge the batteries quickly.

The tradeoff of upgrading the alternator is that it will add about $1,000 to the cost of the vehicle and make replacement a bigger issue than it is with a standard alternator. The biggest disadvantage of a high-capacity aftermarket alternator is replacing it while on a long-distance trip.

This is such an important matter that we give our customers a form at the time of purchase that explains the pros and cons of their alternator choice, and we ask them to sign it to acknowledge that they understand the issue.

If you get the right size bus, with the right engine, the right alternator, from the right dealer, then many of the rest of the issues will be a matter of preference, such as:

* Seat style - High back or mid back

* Upholstery level

* Recliners

* Side sliders

* Fabric covered interior or hard surface that is easier to maintain

* Overhead storage

* TVS & DVD players

* Paint stripes and lettering

Finally, please keep in mind that the price of the bus is only one factor in calculating the cost. You may be the person leading the purchasing process, but who is going to be the person that supervises its maintenance? Too many churches do not address this issue in advance, and you can tell this by the condition that their buses are in when they come if for service. Make this issue a priority early on so that your bus will remain in good working condition throughout its useful life.

This article was published in Religious Product News magazine in January 2008.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Finding Fairness for Rural Students

One day when I was about 10 years old, I was walking down the rural road my family lived on when a bus carrying a visiting high school baseball team from a far away urban school pulled to a stop beside me. The driver opened the door and hollered, “Where’s the local high school?” I told him he had to turn around, go back to the top of the big hill, turn left, and drive another half mile. As the bus pulled away, one of the ballplayers yelled out the window at me, “Hey, Hayseed,” to the derisive roar of his teammates. I remember thinking, “I’m no hayseed, and I’m not the one who’s lost.”

Rural people remain one of the last groups about whom cultural slurs are considered politically acceptable speech. No one is criticized for calling someone a “hayseed,” not to mention hick, hillbilly, bumpkin, redneck, goober, yokel, rube, plowboy, cracker, trailer trash, or woodchuck.

Rural people are easily subjected to these cultural defamations, in part, because they’re too willing to accept them. Even the word “rural” itself is sometimes used in a sleight-of-hand manner by rural people. In a remarkable exercise in cultural relativity, rural has been defined by many as “any place smaller than where I live.” This notion runs through American culture to its core. I once asked a man who lived in a town of fewer than 1,000 residents in a remote area of the Great Plains if he considered himself “rural.” “Oh no,” he quickly protested, “I live here in town, not on a farm.”

But “rural” not only means small and remote in our cultural lexicon. It also means removed from the progressive influences of modern life. The cultural conflict between urban modernity and rural traditionalism is reflected with most ferocity in politics, where simplicity always appeals. Some argue that rural people don’t understand their own self-interest when they vote for conservative candidates (Frank 2004), while others respond that rural “elites” have fostered an anti-urban conservative political rebellion that threatens to take urban progress back to the Dark Ages (Mann 2006), and still others argue that rural voters are quintessentially pragmatic and not ideologically anything (Boyles 2007). TV political analysts and pundits, with their need to polarize, can’t seem to get enough of this divide, as when CNN commentator and Democratic strategist James Carville expressed the profoundly glib opinion (based on 2010 presidential voting) that Pennsylvania is “Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between.”

Rural Matters

In the midst of this cultural divide, over 9 million students attended a school classified as “rural” by the National Center for Education Statistics in 2007. This doesn’t include another 6 million who attend schools in small towns that most urbanites would definitely find “rural.”

A national statistical profile of the students in these rural districts places them pretty close to the national mean on many variables. But national averages mean very little in a rural context. The variation from state to state and place to place is so large that averages simply mask extremes. Nationally, the poverty rate (as measured by eligibility for Title I funding) for all rural and small town districts is 18.5%, slightly higher than the national average for all districts. But in the 10% of rural and small-town districts with the highest rates of disadvantaged students, over 37% of the students live in poverty (about the same rate as the Bronx). Moreover, 59% of the 1.3 million students in those high-poverty rural districts are children of color — 28% black, 23% Hispanic, and 8% Native American.

If these high-poverty rural and small-town districts were one school district, it would be the largest, poorest, most racially diverse district in the nation. But they are not one district. They are a dispersed group of generally small districts (three-fourths have fewer than 2,000 students) mostly south of a line running roughly from Washington, D.C., through Cincinnati, Kansas City, Denver, and Sacramento.

Rural School Finance

The dispersion of rural students among many small districts, coupled with the wide socioeconomic variation among rural regions, has political implications for the way rural schools are funded. Dispersion and poverty are two of the most virile enemies of political power, and where they coincide, they leave in their wake some of the most meagerly funded schools in America.

Where rural people are a relatively large proportion of a state’s population — as in Alabama, Arkansas, Maine, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Vermont — they might have some political power. But, in many of these states, rural people are disproportionately poor and often divided along racial lines.

So, it’s not surprising that when state legislators sit down to carve up the school funding pie, rural areas are often weakly represented, especially when pitted against themselves along racial or socioeconomic lines. In far too many states, funding systems have been crafted that systematically deprive rural schools, especially those in low-wealth regions, of the fiscal capacity to provide an education that meets contemporary standards. Usually reluctant to complain, rural people have nonetheless often gone to court to seek relief from inadequate and inequitable school funding systems. In early 2011, eight of 13 active constitutional challenges to state school funding systems involve rural plaintiffs. Twenty-seven of 32 earlier cases were brought by rural plaintiffs.

Rural plaintiffs have often prevailed in these cases, and sometimes they’ve made a big difference for all schools in a state. Consider the tiny Lake View School District in the Mississippi River Delta region of Arkansas. Lake View was a K-12 district with fewer than 200 students and a poverty rate approaching 100% when it filed suit in 1992 challenging the constitutionality of Arkansas’ miserly school funding system. Ten years later, this small district’s lonely struggle was rewarded by an Arkansas Supreme Court ruling that the state funding system was both inadequate and inequitable.

In these rural cases, the facts are often compelling. The facts in the Lake View case were stunning. The uncontested testimony by witnesses for the plaintiff revealed a wasteland of education funding disparity and deprivation. By way of summary, the Arkansas Supreme Court described the situation in Lake View: “[The district] has one uncertified mathematics teacher who teaches all high school mathematics courses. He is paid $10,000 a year as a substitute teacher and works a second job as a school bus driver, where he earns $5,000 a year. He has an insufficient number of calculators for his trigonometry class, too few electrical outlets, no compasses and one chalkboard, a computer lacking software and a printer that does not work, an inadequate supply of paper, and a duplicating machine that is overworked” (Lake View v. Huckabee).

Within a few years of this decision, the Arkansas school funding system was dramatically overhauled, with significant increases in funding for operations and facilities and with more emphasis on getting the money to high-needs districts. An annual review of the minimally adequate level of funding the state must provide is conducted, and the state is obligated to fund it.

But in their enthusiasm for reform, the Arkansas General Assembly and Gov. Mike Huckabee cast a loathsome eye on persistent Lake View and other small, rural districts. In the mind of the political elite, these bothersome community schools were both bad and inefficient. So, with the new funding came a statutory mandate that all districts with fewer than 350 students be closed. Fifty-seven, including Lake View, were merged or consolidated with larger districts. Never adequately funded, the Lake View district got the death penalty for speaking the truth to power.


For many rural communities, the primary school funding issue now is whether they can have a school at all. The issue of state-mandated school or school district consolidation is a leading political issue in nearly half the states. It’s been an on-again, off-again issue nationwide since the 1920s, when motorized transport developed to the point that children could be assembled over larger catchment areas than when they walked or rode horses to one-room schoolhouses.

In these earliest days, the push to close rural schools came primarily from professional educators who argued on the grounds of school improvement. Rural schools were unprofessionally run and dominated by localism and backwardness. Bigger schools could offer more professional, more specialized instruction and a richer curriculum. There was no talk of efficiency or saving money. Anyone who opposed school consolidation was provincial, narrow-minded, and anti-progressive.

Although there has been an ebb and flow to the intensity of this process, it’s been relentless. For most of this history, most closures have been voluntary or forced only by local political decisions. But in recent years, four factors seem to trigger the call for statutorily mandated rural school or district closings:

  • Declining enrollment leading to increasing per pupil cost in rural schools (and, of course, reflected in diminished rural political power);
  • Fiscal distress and budget cuts in state government;
  • Disparities in the economic fortunes of the rural versus the urban areas of the state; and
  • Court decisions like those in the Lake View case, forcing overhaul of school funding systems.

In various combinations, some or all of these factors have led to pressure for state-mandated rural school consolidation in many states.

While there is still lip service given to the idea that consolidation is about school improvement, it is manifest that the primary purpose is cutting spending. Professional educators are no longer at the forefront of the consolidation movement. Now, governors, legislative leaders, and chief state school officers (more policy makers than professional educators) are leading the way.

There are some fundamental political realities about state-mandated consolidation of rural schools. First, the attack is almost always launched against districts, not schools, and the target is wasteful central administration in small districts. It is often promised, and sometimes written into statute, that, at least for some grace period, schools will not be closed. But schools always are closed eventually because there really is not much money to be saved in closing districts alone. The purpose of closing districts is to decommission the political apparatus that protects schools, because closing schools, laying off teachers, and enlarging class size is what might save money. But these expected savings are often illusory because teacher salaries are usually lower in the closed district than in the district that absorbs it, and the salaries must be leveled up as new contracts are negotiated, and because hauling all those kids longer distances to larger schools costs a lot of money.

Second, mandated consolidation is always forced on the politically most vulnerable schools — those that serve low-wealth communities, especially communities of color.

In Arkansas, for example, there were 134 schools operating in districts that were closed and those that absorbed them in 2004. Of those, 47 were closed within two years. Forty-two of those 47 school closings were in the districts absorbed into larger districts. The schools that were closed had 21% higher student poverty rates and served nearly three times higher percentages of black students than the schools allowed to remain open. If you were a black student in an annexed district, there was a 7-in-10 chance of your school being closed. If you were not black, your chances were 3-in-10.

In Maine, a mandatory school district consolidation began with the premise that all districts had to enter into good faith negotiations with other districts in their area and arrive at a consolidation plan that would ensure that the minimum enrollment in each district would be no fewer than 2,500. But as the negotiations proceeded, it became clear that some larger, wealthier districts wanted no part of absorbing lower wealth districts whose teacher salaries in the newly minted district would need to be raised to the level of their own teacher salaries. Exemptions were provided for 38 larger districts that already had the required minimum enrollment, generally high property tax bases, and over half the students in the state. In the end, the kind of consolidation envisioned by the law involves only one-fourth of the state’s students. Another 15% are in 140 rural districts that simply refused to consolidate and are suffering stateaid penalties as a result (loss of half their state aid for administration, and loss of 5% of their aid for facilities and maintenance, special education, and transportation). This resistance is centered in the “Rural Rim,” the small, rural communities between I-95 and the woods of northern Maine, the Down East region along the Atlantic coast east of Bar Harbor, and the far northeast, along the border with the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec.

State Funding Systems

By far, the more conventional strategy to close rural schools is not through state mandates, but fiscal asphyxiation. Over time, a small rural district that’s inadequately funded will defer building maintenance in order to pay teachers, and it will ultimately face a major capital expenditure that requires bonding and forces the local voters to decide whether to keep the school open.

However, generalizing about state school-funding systems is dangerous. While there are some patterns, there truly are 50 unique systems. The funding formulas are largely a negotiated set of tradeoffs between variables designed to favor one group of districts over another, offset by other variables designed to mitigate the damages.

Rural areas generally benefit from provisions in many state-aid formulas that adjust aid based on district enrollment size. Often, these adjustments are limited to “necessarily” small districts, those for whom small size is a function of remote location, sparse population, or difficult terrain, and not a matter of choice. In most cases, the amount of additional aid due to these factors is very small.

There are also many state funding formulas that soften the effect of declining enrollment on per pupil funding allocations, often by using the average enrollment over a number of previous years. This helps many rural districts, as well as some nonrural districts with declining enrollment.

Most state funding systems also make adjustments based on the number of at-risk students, English language learners, and special education students in a district. Since these allocations are usually made based on shares from a fixed appropriation, these measures help rural districts in proportion to the presence of these students in the district, as they should.

Finally, transportation funding is often substantially supported by state aid, sometimes entirely. For rural areas, this is a two-edged sword. Such state aid is a relief to rural taxpayers, without question. But it’s also a subsidy to consolidation, which makes it the least likely of “rural friendly” formula factors to come under attack when state legislatures would rather close rural schools than fund them.

Other aspects of the state school funding system often outweigh these perquisites for small and rural schools. Most damaging are school funding systems that rely too heavily on local property taxes. The local property tax is the bane of most rural schools, especially those in low-wealth regions. Because high-wealth districts have unfettered access to a strong property tax base, they can easily outbid low-wealth rural districts (and urban) in the very competitive market for teachers. Sometimes, states standardize teacher salary schedules in an attempt to level the playing field, and some states even fund teacher salary positions directly. But this attempt at equity is often undermined by a local option to “supplement” the state salary schedule from local property taxes.

Categorical funding is also a problem. In small schools, the total funding available under categorical programs may be too small to efficiently run the required program. Moreover, mandated high-cost services that are inadequately funded can create a catastrophe in a small school system. A single high-needs special education student can bankrupt a small school.

Among the most anti-rural provisions increasingly seen in state school funding systems is using education cost adjustments to account for the undeniable fact that the cost of providing educational services varies across the state. Some states use a simple cost of living indicator, others more sophisticated economic analyses. But no matter the approach used, the common denominator is that these adjustments always seem to merely offset other formula provisions designed to send more aid to districts facing higher levels of poverty. This is simply because the best jobs, the most expensive housing, and the capacity to pay for them are not in places of poverty.

In rural areas, this is a particularly thorny issue because, whether the cost-comparison measure is cost of living, teacher salaries, or salaries of nonteachers with college educations, the challenge of luring a teacher to a small, low-wealth rural community with limited amenities, poor housing, and few college-educated peers, and keeping that teacher there beyond the first beckoning from a better situated district, is simply daunting. So far, no attempt to adjust for local variation in cost has captured the essence of this challenge, and most cost-adjusters just take money away from high-needs schools and send it to wealthier districts.

Federal Role

You would expect federal funding formulas to take a more deliberate look at equitable distribution of funding, especially under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the federal program whose explicit purpose is to increase the capacity of local school districts to meet the needs of disadvantaged students. Unfortunately, some of the most egregious school funding inequities for rural schools are buried deep in the Title I formula.

Some Title I funds are distributed using a weighting system to artificially inflate the count of disadvantaged students in a district. The purpose is to send more money to schools with “high concentrations” of poverty. That’s a good idea, but it’s been poorly applied under current law.

That’s because Congress decided that “high concentration” of poverty can mean either high percentages of disadvantaged students or just plain high numbers of disadvantaged students, even if those high numbers do not translate into high percentages. Large suburbs, for example, can pile up large numbers of poor kids, even though they’re a small percentage of the total district enrollment.

This dual meaning of “high concentration” was first used in 2002. Since then, each district’s disadvantaged student count is calculated using both the “percentage weighting” and the “number weighting” systems. The higher of the two counts is the one that goes into the formula to determine that district’s share of the Title I appropriation. Most districts gain weighted student count under one or both of these weighting schemes.

But here’s the rub. Just because a district gets a boost in student count under one or the other of the weighting systems doesn’t mean it gets more money. Why not? Because the total amount available to be distributed is fixed by congressional appropriation, so the formula is really just a way to determine shares of that pool of money. Even if a district gets an increase in student count, it can still lose funding if other districts get a proportionally bigger boost in student count. About 10,700 smaller districts suffered just that because 550 larger districts outmuscled them by number weighting, according to a 2008-09 Congressional Research Service analysis.

With number weighting, money moves from smaller districts — no matter how high their student poverty rate — to larger districts — no matter how low their student poverty rate. Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia are among the beneficiaries of number weighting, but so are large, low-poverty suburban districts like Fairfax County, Va. (suburban Washington), Gwinnett County, Ga. (suburban Atlanta), and Baltimore County, Md. (suburban Baltimore). High-poverty rural and smalltown districts and even high-poverty small-city districts, like those in Rochester, N.Y.; Laredo, Texas; Flint, Mich.; and Reading, Pa., are all damaged.

How bad is it? Fairfax County, with a 6% poverty rate, gets more Title I money for each disadvantaged student than rural Virginia’s Lee County Public Schools with its 33% poverty rate.

Rural communities are real places that for generations have educated their children and sent them off to earn their living and pay their taxes elsewhere. These communities and the schools that serve them are a lot more complex than those who succumb to rural stereotypes want to acknowledge, let alone understand. But with one-third of U.S. public school students in rural or small-town schools, some of them in the poorest communities in the nation, the needs of these schools can be ignored only by dropping the pretext that the education of every child matters. School funding systems should reflect the real differences among rural school districts, just as they should reflect the differences among all districts. “Rural” is not per se a favored class. But neither is it a category to dismiss as bygone or backward or insignificant, as has too often been the case.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Safety Officials Warn About Toys Snagging on School Buses

Washington, DC - State school bus safety officials and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today warned parents that popular "Pokemon," "Furby," "Beanie Babies" and other small toys that can be attached to backpacks or clothing pose a potential safety hazard to children getting off school buses.

Michael Martin of the School Bus Information Council said, "Fortunately there have been no deaths or injuries cause by these toys snagging, so we have an opportunity to forewarn parents and school officials. But since 1991 six children have been killed when clothing, book bags, backpacks or other loose items snagged on a school bus handrail or door component-they were dragged to their deaths or run over when the bus pulled away. At least 22 others have been injured in similar incidents."

"These toys are all the rage with youngsters today and it's only natural that they would want to show them off," Martin said. "There is nothing wrong with the toys themselves, but any toy that dangles off backpacks or clothing is every bit as dangerous as loose drawstrings, straps, and other items that have caused deaths and injuries in a number of situations. It's the old adage about an ounce of prevention-parents need to know about the danger and should remove these toys from their child's clothing and backpacks immediately."

NHTSA Acting Administrator Rosalyn G. Millman said, "The United States has an outstanding pupil transportation safety record because state and federal officials and the school bus industry constantly work together to minimize risks. We always err on the side of caution, giving parents and caregivers information they need to make their child's trip to and from school as safe as humanly possible."

"Over the past decade, the designs of childrens' clothing and other items they carry have changed, causing unnecessary fatalities and injuries when they became entangled. School bus manufacturers initiated recalls to reconfigure handrails and other equipment to prevent problems. But, the most effective way to prevent problems is for parents and caregivers to ensure that children do not wear or carry anything likely to become entangled," she said.

NHTSA first expressed concern in 1993 about the entanglement of clothing in school bus handrails and issued several consumer warnings. The safety agency investigated the handrail designs of all major school bus manufacturers and nine subsequently conducted safety recalls to make the handrails in their buses less prone to snagging incidents.

The manufacturers took these actions even though the safety problem was with the clothing children were wearing, not the handrail designs that had been in use for many incident-free years. As a result of separate investigations by the Consumer Product Safety Commission of problems with clothing snagging on playground equipment and fences, clothing manufacturers developed industry standards for drawstrings on childrens' clothing.

Snagging incidents in school buses have declined, but in 1997 a Maryland girl was dragged after a drawstring snagged, as was a Rhode Island girl in 1998 when her backpack became wedged in the handrail. Fortunately, neither was injured seriously.

Millman and Martin urged school bus fleet operators to make sure that the necessary repairs were made to older buses and keep awareness about this problem high by emphasizing it during school bus driver training.

"Before pulling away from each stop, drivers should look at the closed exit door carefully and then use their outside mirrors to look again to make sure a child is not still attached to the bus," Martin said.

The handrails, also called grab rails, are located inside school buses, sometimes on both sides of the step well. Snagging occurs when something gets wedged between the body of the bus and the lower end of the handrail or in the door itself. School bus manufacturers have designed simple remedies that fill the gap to prevent the likelihood of snagging.

According to Martin, the big yellow school bus is one of the safest forms of transportation in the U.S. and fatal incidents involving school buses are rare events. He credits the industry's stellar safety record to its vigilance in alerting parents and school officials to even potential problems; the sheer size of the school bus that gives it an advantage in all but the most severe crashes; extensive federal safety requirements that exceed those for other passenger vehicles; and the skill, special licensing requirements and training of school bus drivers.

Each year, about 440,000 public school buses travel 4.3 billion miles, transporting 23.5 million school children. Over the past ten years, an average of nine school-age children died as occupants of school buses, and 22 were killed as pedestrians struck while getting on or off the bus (including those who were killed in snagging incidents).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Former State Director of School Transportation to join National Bus Sales.

National Bus Sales, one of the largest new and used bus sales organizations in the United States, has announced that Randy McLerran, former Oklahoma Director of School Transportation, has joined their company as a School Transportation Specialist and Sales Representative. He was selected as National School Transportation Administrator of the Year 2001 and has received two national awards for his work in the safe transportation of students with special needs. Randy has served on the board of directors for NAPT and NASDPTS and is a former treasurer of NASDPTS. Randy, a frequent presenter and keynote speaker at school transportation conferences said “ I have enjoyed my 37 years in public education and serving as State Director of School Transportation for the State of Oklahoma for the last 20 years. However, I am excited to join National Bus Sales which is known for providing safe and quality school buses to school districts.”

National Bus Sales, Inc. has been in the bus business for over twenty years with its main headquarters in Tulsa, Oklahoma. National Bus Sales has a large selection of new and used school buses, new and used shuttle buses, special needs buses, and motorcoaches.

McLerran’s background in public education and certification as superintendent of schools and his extensive knowledge of rural and urban school operations will enable him to assist schools in finding solutions to their transportation needs in a cost efficient manner.

High School- Dill City, OK
B.A.- Southwest Oklahoma State University
M.Ed.-East Central State University
Post Grad-Oklahoma State University

Family-Wife Pam

On his Ipod-Chris Wall, Leon Russell, Marshall Tucker Band and blues

Hobbies-Yard work and learning to play golf

Friday, January 14, 2011

'Top 10' Ways to Cut Down on Cold Weather Fuel Costs

These last few weeks, Jack Frost has taken a bite out of some of us while Mother Nature has shined warmly on others. It’s that time of the year again when weather conditions can change quickly without notice, for the best or the worst. But one thing you can count on this winter is that harsh operating conditions will happen fast, so you must be prepared.

Winter operations mean more fuel consumption, so here are 10 recommendations to maximize your fuel investment during cold weather. With over 6,000 clients using our Fuel Management solutions we have discovered these are the best ways to cut wasted fuel. Here is the list of Jack Lee’s Top Ten ways to cut down on cold weather fuel costs:

1. Train and educate your drivers: Your drivers can control fuel consumption each time they fire up their engines. Proper training can improve fuel efficiency, economy and emissions. Hard acceleration, speeding and idling are the biggest causes of fuel waste. Initiate a training course for drivers and reward participation.

2. Use Fuel Management Online Software: FMO is a software suite from 4Refuel that puts you in touch with all the fuel consumption data you will need to cut your fuel expenses, guaranteed. Information is available to your desk top including refueling location, the unit fueled and where fill ups were done. Tracking miles traveled, average speed and engine efficiency is critical to cutting fuel costs. This information will help your drivers and managers optimize routes with better planning. FMO sets up easily to import and export your data and it is incredibly user friendly.

3. Decrease Idling: Be aware of the time engines idle. Excessive idling ads to your fuel costs by as much as 50% and can shorten the life of engine oil by 75%, adding even more costs. Initiate a campaign to reduce idling time and reward participants. Allowing an engine to idle more than 3 minutes causes expensive damage which harms efficiency, shortens engine life and increases maintenance costs. It all adds up.

4. Start off slower and stop speeding: Jackrabbit starts waste fuel and save less than 3 minutes per hour driving, but can result in using 40% more fuel and increase toxic emissions by 400%! What’s the rush? Speeding is dangerous; it wastes fuel and creates higher levels of toxic emissions. Speeds over 100 km/hour drastically impact fuel efficiencies. Trucks traveling at 120 km/hour use 50% more fuel and they also emit 100% more carbon monoxide, 50% more hydrocarbons and 31% more nitrogen oxides.

5. Lose Weight: Excess weight places unnecessary strain on your vehicle’s engine and greatly affects its fuel efficiency. By removing as little as 100 pounds you can significantly improve your gas mileage. Check each vehicle and pitch out that unnecessary weight!

6. Upload your odometer readings to maximize fuel efficiency: FMO gives you the capability to compare mileage records with fuel consumption at the click of a mouse. When you have all this information, fleet management is simple, and you can cut fuel costs fast when you see a unit that is operating outside of predetermined thresholds.

7. Cut the time you spend calculating IFTA reporting: If you cross provincial, state or national borders you know how much time it takes to file International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) and time is part of calculating your true cost of fuel. FMO will cut your time spent gathering tax information for fleets that cross the U.S. - Canadian border. Refueling data can be batched by region to each specific refueling station so you know to which jurisdiction the fuel taxes are owed.

8. Upgrade your Fleet: Whenever possible, invest in modern, fuel-efficient vehicles. Modern diesel engines are far more fuel-efficient and perform better with modern diesel fuels such as ultra low sulfur diesel and bio-diesel. Measure each piece of equipment for fuel efficiency and get rid of the under performing ones.

9. Service your fleet regularly: This includes having a stringent, well-managed preventive maintenance policy. Regular tire pressure checks can help you cut fuel too. A well maintained vehicle performs better, improves fuel efficiency, reduces toxic emissions and, in the long run, will cost less to maintain. Gather monthly maintenance reports and match them to your fleet numbers and you will stay on top of each unit as well as expenses.

10. Import third-party refueling data: You can measure and manage your fleet better when you have all the information. If your fleet is on the move chances are you refuel from a number of sources whether it is on-site, via your own fuel storage tanks or at card locks. FMO pulls each source together in one report, by unit, so you can review, manage and eliminate wasted fuel.

Your winter fuel consumption will drop and so will your costs even if you employ only half of the suggestions above. That should give you some extra cash to use on heating your office and staying warm, rather than spewing those dollars out your tail pipe.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Did everyone see the new buses that are being introduced to the market? International is bringing out a Type A bus and Starcraft is bringing out a Type C bus. What do you think the market place will be like when these buses are introduced? With a tight market for new buses already, isn’t it going to be hard for a bus manufacturer to make money?