Department Highlight: Transportation
The Ithaca City School District’s transportation office is constantly buzzing with activity as bus drivers, monitors, and office staff work closely to ensure students get to and from school safely.
It’s a job that requires a team-player attitude, extensive training, and hard work. Many drivers arrive at 6 a.m. to prepare buses for the day, and the last bus sometimes returns as late as 6:30 p.m., said transportation manager Elizabeth Berner.
First, there’s the morning bus run. Then, at 11 a.m., Pre-K students are returned home, followed later in the day by elementary, middle, and high school students. Late buses run for students who participate in sports, extracurricular activities, and after-school programs, and sometimes drivers make out-of-town trips.
Drivers must obtain a Class B driver license with passenger endorsement, 30 hours of state-mandated training, yearly physical exams, random drug testing, and ongoing safety training. They are also responsible for checking the bus before and after each trip to ensure tires, lights, brakes, wipers, and other parts are in working order.
The ICSD’s transportation department employs 79 drivers, including Brian Turk, a 20-year employee who’s also a firefighter, Gadabout senior transportation driver, and licensed funeral director. The department is always recruiting qualified drivers. (Check out the ICSD’s job listings website to apply.)
“It’s certainly not for everyone,” says Turk, whose favorite part of driving is interacting with students. “It takes years of experience.”
Other employees, including bus monitors, office staff, and mechanics, work together to keep the department running. Staff share in fielding radio transmissions from drivers, as well as calls from parents. “They’re basically our customer,” Berner said. “We just try to serve kids and parents the best we can.”
“We have to work as a very close team,” said senior typist Tina Lindblad, who has worked with the department since 1983. “Everything is a shared job. It’s extra busy and we all overlap each other.”
Meanwhile, in the garage, maintenance staff are performing oil changes, replacing windshield wipers, keeping the fleet in good condition, and preparing vehicles for twice-yearly state inspections.
The district’s fleet includes 88 student transportation vehicles, including three minivans and 10 smaller buses; about 40 maintenance and grounds vehicles; and another 35 to 40 pieces of motorized equipment, like snow blowers and lawn mowers. ICSD buses travel over 1.2 million miles annually.
“There’s never a dull moment,” said fleet manager Kyle Schmidt, who is also a certified bus driver instructor and serves as a bus monitor when needed.
Other department tasks include coordinating routes, dispatching, and advocating for school bus safety. (An important tip for motorists: Other vehicles must stop – and stay stopped – while a school bus has its red flashing lights on and its stop arm signal is out, so that children may safely board and exit the bus.)
Above all, the department works to provide an equal transportation experience for all students, including those with disabilities, and strives to help kids have a positive start to the school day.
“Everybody takes an extra step every day. The kids start their day with us, so if they have a bad day on the bus, that’s how their day starts,” Lindblad said. “The drivers really care about the kids. If they’re happy to come into work, then we start the day on a positive note.”