During these difficult economic times, school boards and school executives are faced with tough decisions to supply services with limited resources. Our counterparts in the private school transportation companies have done an excellent job in positioning themselves with an image of being cost effective and efficient. The image or branding of this success often leads our executives to pursue thoughts or discussions about privatizing school transportation. We must be vigilant in asking ourselves questions that allow us to be competitive and relevant.
What can you do to achieve a similar image or level of success? How do you compare with other operations of similar size and scope? What efficiencies have you achieved? How have you presented yourself? What data do you have to support your position? What recommendations have you made that will assist you in improving your service levels and decreasing your costs? Who else have you discussed your situation with that has the right experience to assist you?
What I have found is there are well-run operations along with less than well-run operations, and it has nothing to do with being a public provider or a private provider. It has everything to do about how you run your business, what type of leadership you provide, how you get things done, how you communicate, and whether you are telling your story. Do others know what a great job you do?
When your district considers pursuing contracted services, this can be a daunting prospect. If you were to place yourself in your superintendent's position, what questions would you ask yourself? What information would s/he need to make an informed decision? Why are school administrators considering this as a potential solution? What does the private company have to offer that you do not? What do you have to offer that they do not? How will the change impact your service level and your customers? Have you made every effort at improving your operation? The private companies are not your evil twin but rather your competition. So how are you positioned to compete? If you can think in terms of these issues and answer these questions, you are then in a position to create a level playing field.
There are many more technical questions to consider in your business, maintenance and operational processes to position you to be ready to compete. Spend some time examining other operations and your own. Also, attend workshops and conferences to develop your tool kit of proficiency. The more tools you have, the better equipped you will be.
Michael Shields is an award-winning director of transportation for Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Salem, Ore. He was an co-chair for the NAPT Summit in 2010 and a co-chair of the STN EXPO in 2011. He was named supervisor of the year by the Oregon Association for Pupil Transportation in 2011 and received the organization's Dennis Essary Leadership Award in 2013.