Kevin Snowden has only overseen Alabama's statewide student transportation operations for five days, but he's no stranger to how school districts are funded. The 14-year industry veteran knows full well how difficult it can be to make ends meet.
The former transportation coordinator for the Shelby County Board of Education joined the Alabama State Department of Education last July to learn the ropes and be the successor of Joe Lightsey. He retired last month and now works for school bus dealer Transportation South.
Snowden noted that districts across the state are struggling to tap local taxpayers to fund the portion of the budget not covered by state reimbursement, which only accounts for 80 percent of costs.
"Convincing the powers that be to fund transportation at 100 percent will certainly be a challenge," said the state's new program coordinator of pupil transportation.
Certainly many states and local districts can empathize.
Snowden also said that increasing public awareness and enhancing the perception of student transportation is a big challenge that he's tackling, in addition to keeping operations as safe as they can be.
"I believe that our drivers are already among the best there is, and (I) would like to see the residents of Alabama to be better informed about the danger zones associated with the school bus stops in their area," he added.
Snowden's experience actually goes back farther than the year 2000, when he became the route supervisor at Shelby County. He started out as a 16-year-old bus driver and drove his own route throughout his senior year in high school. He also was a sub driver while attending Jacksonville State University, where he was a double major in Music Performance and Music Education.
After graduating, he was an assistant band director in Anniston, Alabama for a year before taking a band director position at a middle school in Alabaster, just south of Birmingham. He remained there for the next 12 years until seeing a job advertisement for the route supervisor job at Shelby County.
"I thought, 'I can do that.' My wife suggested that I throw my hat into the ring, and after 14 years of local school bus supervision, here I am," he said.
Snowden said his biggest challenge as state director will be "maintaining and setting a high level of expectations for drivers, supervisors and trainers in order to provide the safest transportation for those we are here to serve — the students of Alabama."