Ken Spanier, who served as president of the Minnesota School Bus Operators Association from 1999-2001, passed away last week. He was 64.
Shelly Jonas, executive director for MSBOA, told STN that his death on Aug. 29 was “devastating.”
She added that Spanier provided leadership to the organization during challenging times, when state school bus funding was rolled into the general fund.
“There was no longer a separate pot of money reserved for transportation. As a result, school districts around the state had started giving away pizza coupons and other small enticements to encourage high school students to relinquish their right to school transportation so they could save money,” she recalled on Friday. “Ken was very vocal defending the move as it would put student lives in jeopardy in order to save a few hundred dollars. He attended many meetings all the way up to the Governor’s office to discuss the issues of education funding.”
Jonas also shared that Spanier, owner of Spanier Bus Service and a 2013 recipient of the association’s prestigious Jim DeVeau Award as well as a Golden Merit Award from the National School Transportation Association, fought a proposal by the state Department of Public Safety to lessen the requirements for those driving Type-A school buses.
“These two issues hit at the heart of everything Ken held dear: protecting children and recognizing those that transport Minnesota’s most precious cargo,” she added.
Spanier’s MSBOA presidency also coincided with an especially challenging school bus driver shortage in the late 1990s, Jonas said.
“His comments still hold true today: ‘Can we ever pay a school bus driver what they are really worth? And can we get society to recognize and respect the wonderful job these school bus drivers do? Until we solve these problems, through adequate funding and changing public opinion, we will have a driver shortage,’” she said.
Above all, Jonas said she’ll remember Spanier’s leadership and mentorship as president, as well as his kindness and ability to bring people together despite opposing viewpoints.
“Ken was kind and thoughtful with regards to the opinions of others. He knew that if a group of six people got together, they would see things six different ways and that no one was ultimately right or wrong,” she said, adding that she had recently started at MSBOA at the time. “He always treated us as colleagues and encouraged us to find our voice in the industry. He said it was because he worked with a strong woman, his wife Tami, and he respected and valued her. He was a fabulous mentor who tried to bring out the best in those around him.”
In addition to Tami, Spanier is survived by sons Noah and Ike, brother Ron (Sharon) and sister Pat (Tom).
Spanier Bus Service provides contracted school busing for St. Cloud (Minn.) Area School District 72 as well as charter service.