Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series focusing on people who have been in the school bus industry at least 10 years and the changes they’ve noticed throughout their career.
After retiring from the U.S. Army with 30 years of military service under his belt, David Hartzell was looking for a career change. He happened to find his home in pupil transportation.
During his last five years in the military, Hartzell worked in logistics, which consisted of a lot of transportation components. For him, it made sense to further consider a transportation setting.
In 2005, he accepted a position as the manager of transportation at Widefield School District 3 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. After seven years, he became the director of transportation at Harrison School District 2, also in Colorado Springs, where he has remained.
“I feel a tremendous level of fulfillment working in school transportation—like we are accomplishing something meaningful,” Hartzell said. “I have always had this drive to serve in some capacity.”
Hartzell said one of his personal accomplishments over the past 15 years is his dedication to his staff. He said he places a lot of value on the people aspect of organizations. Hartzell enjoys working in a department in which there is mutual respect between himself and his staff. Hartzell said his staff knows that he would be willing to go to bat for them, fight for them and support them.
“The administration knows it [too] because they know that Dave Hartzell speaks out for his people, and I do that in a tactful and meaningful way,” Hartzell explained.
Biggest Technological Change
Hartzell is impressed with the ever-changing and upgrading technology that helps to transport students to and from school safely. But, it’s employee access to new district technology in the workplace that he believes is having the greatest impact on the industry.
“It’s because, as a whole, in our society, we have come a long way, even in the last 10 to 15 years—even in the last couple of years,” Hartzell explained. “There is so much that is accessible to employees in so many aspects of their jobs, whether it’s timekeeping, doing a pre-trip on a bus, or student management. There are things that technology has a role in.”
Hartzell said the newly available technology is helping to streamline routing, which in turn, saves in fuel costs and maximizes driver time. GPS and student tracking technology are also making the lives of school bus drivers easier and more efficient, he added.
“Especially when it comes to student accountability, mileage accountability and fuel savings,” Hartzell noted. “These technological advances have made it easier.”
It is even something as simple as employees clocking in and clocking out on a machine, he added, instead of hand-filling out a timesheet that makes work easier on them.
Hartzell discussed how important it is in today’s workplace to be technologically savvy. While one does not have to be an expert, he explained, they do have to know enough to be able to access the programs that are out there and used in this profession.
Employees need to be able to “access the capabilities that are provided, to make our jobs more efficient and more fun sometimes,” Hartzell explained. “At the two districts I’ve been at, I’ve seen a lot of growth in that area.”
For the employees, he continued, “I won’t say their job is easier, because being a bus driver is a tough profession, but … it has allowed them to have better access, to be better prepared, and to feel happier with what they are doing. They can now use things to assist them, versus taking hours to rely on something with pen and paper, for example.”
Hartzell said his department is working towards keeping employees up-to-date with the necessary technology in the workplace. Both his department and the support department provide training opportunities, he pointed out.
However, as technology changes and becomes more complex, the cost of the overall school bus increases.
“With all of this new technology to include in the emissions requirements on school buses, it has cost school districts more to purchase a bus,” Hartzell noted. “So, for example, 15 years ago, the first school bus that I was involved in purchasing with [Widefield School District], cost about $65,000. Now, school buses are up to and near $105,000, $110,000, $115,000 per bus. So, from $65,000 per bus to $105,000, we’ll say, that’s a significant increase. It’s not quite doubled, but it is close.”
Hartzell added, “We are driving buses in a safer environment with more options so that we can be safer and more efficient. Yet it does come at a cost. A financial cost. But again, how do you measure the cost of safety when you are keeping kids safe? You can’t put a value on that.”
Biggest Operational Change
Meanwhile, the biggest operational change Hartzell has noticed throughout his career is bell-time changes and their compatibility with bus routes. Hartzell said Harrison SD was ahead of the curve in terms of changing bell times, but with that came challenges.
About five years ago, Hartzell said high school bell times were changed. High schoolers who used to report to school at 7:10 a.m. didn’t have to report until 7:45 a.m. While Hartzell agreed that later start times allow students to be more alert in their first- and second-period classes, the transportation department is still working through timing challenges.
“It did cause us some difficulties from a routing perspective because it constricted our time to get students to and from school. So it caused us in some areas to be late,” Hartzell explained.
Today, Hartzell’s team is working with the administration on bell-time tweaks. “I’ve made some proposals to our district administration about some ideas that might give us more time to get students to and from their buildings in the morning and afternoon, without being late. Also, accommodate a later start for secondary students, and so on. We are going to take a look at this over the next couple of years.”
For the current school year, Hartzell was able to obtain approval for a later start time on Mondays for all elementary and secondary students. Previously, only secondary students would start late, and elementary students would depart early on Mondays. The two different schedules were causing student management and behavior difficulties on the school bus.
“With those two different schedules on Monday and then Tuesday through Friday, it was hard for drivers to build consistent student lists and seating charts. Those things that helped them to get to know their students, so that they could better manage their students, and figure out where students could be seated safely and successfully,” Hartzell explained.
By having all elementary and secondary students arrive at the same time, he said, drivers are now consistent on every route, every day. And misconduct reports have dropped.
“Drivers have the same group of kids Monday through Friday for this school or that school and they have been really happy about it,” Hartzell reported. “That’s kind of been a real boost for employee morale as well.”
Industry Accomplishments and Goals
Hartzell is surprised by how magical school transportation departments are across the nation. Despite a nationwide driver shortage, students still get to and from school, because the staff makes sure of it, he observed.
“There are students here in Colorado, and I am sure across the nation, that if it wasn’t for the school bus, they may not get to school that day,” Hartzell explained. “So, for me, that is an ongoing testament to the quality of school transportation.”
However, he hopes the industry becomes better at educating the community and the motorists on the dangers of passing stopped school buses.
“That’s an area that we need to improve on. I think it starts with re-educating our nation and our drivers so that they are more aware of the fact that students are just trying to get to school. We have to be cautious about it and not be in such a hurry,” Hartzell explained.
His concluding words are to make sure drivers know their importance.
“We promote our folks here,” Hartzell said. “We tell people at every in-service [training] to please remember how important they are to the school district, to the children, and what examples they bring to the table each and every day. Their jobs are very important.”