There is always much to consider when overseeing a school transportation training department. The challenges are never-ending, especially when overseeing the fifth-largest school district in the U.S.
Louis Schulenburg is the man in charge of navigating such an endeavor for Clark County School District, which encompasses Las Vegas and nearly the entire southern tip of Nevada. As the transportation operations manager, he oversees the training department and the entire training process for new applicants as well as scheduling the incoming training classes.
A major portion of his job involves scheduling, he said, in which he needs to be sure that trainers cannot test that same trainee applicant for the DMV test. “Anybody that trains a specific trainee cannot test them for the DMV,” he said, adding that he has several spreadsheets to help navigate that process. “… I have to make sure that they did not train that person, even a classroom instructor that teaches a whole class, they still would be ineligible to test all those people in that class.”
His other job functions include maintaining an open line of communication with the DMV and handling any issues that arise on a daily basis, Schulenburg said.
From Application to Behind the Wheel
CCSD also has its own DMV-certified test course located at the Mathew B. Wallace Transportation Center. Schulenburg explained that having the course has cut back on the amount of time it takes to get a driver applicant through the training process. He said even before COVID-19, driver applicants had to schedule an appointment at the DMV, and all three tests couldn’t be done in one day.
“They would do the pre-trip and the skills, then you have to reschedule for your behind-the-wheel,” Schulenburg commented. “So, here we can knock it out in one day. Each examiner could do two tests a day. Right now, I have 11 certified, so I could do 22 tests per day, versus if we went to the DMV we probably average five over a week period.”
The onsite course includes the pre-trip inspection and all the safety aspects taken straight from the DMV manual. The course also teaches six driver skills: straight line backing, offset left and right (backing up into a left or right lane), alley dock (similar to backing into a loading dock at a 90-degree angle), and parallel parking for both the site side (requires parallel parking in a spot that is on the left side) and conventional side (requires parallel parking in a spot on the right side).
Jennifer Vobis’ Leadership
School Transportation News visited Clark County School District in September to present Executive Director of Transportation Jennifer Vobis with the 2022 Transportation Director of the Year award.
“She’s a very good leader, she’s all about safety,” said Louis Schulenburg, the transportation operations manager for Clark County.
He noted that employees feel comfortable asking Vobis for something they need.
“She’s all about keeping the morale going and building morale,” he continued. “So, if it’s something that would be a team effort, she’s all for it.”
Schulenburg said Vobis’ main passion is safety and that she’s always looking at things from a student safety perspective.
He added that Vobis winning the Transportation Director of the Year award reflect the work of the entire transportation team. “It shows that she’s leading a good team and we’re helping her meet those standards. … Her one goal is servicing the students in Clark County, so for her to get that award is huge.
“And again, it’s an honor and it shows that everybody here at Clark County, no matter if they’re in training, front office, the garage area, everybody is doing something right for her to get that honor,” he continued. “It’s awesome, and we’re all excited for it. It’s well deserved.”
Schulenberg added that for the DMV’s purposes, the applicants are only tested on three out of the six skills. The three skills are determined on test day by the examiner.
Training at Clark County is broken up into two sessions. Half of the group receives classroom instruction while the other half is outside practicing skills in the school buses. The groups then switch after lunch.
Schulenburg said that the entire training lasts 14 to 18 days, and includes the CDL behind-the-wheel exam. CCSD also pays for training. He noted the final drives are conducted once the driver has their CDL and they get selected for a route and student riders are assigned.
During the summer, he said his department can train anywhere from 60 to 70 applicants, but classes held during the school year are limited to 30 applicants. “I would say out of the 30 we retain 90 percent,” he said.
The 10 percent that don’t make it usually get stuck at the CDL testing portion, he said, or they make it all the way to their final drive and start interacting with the kids when they realize it’s not the job for them.
Last school year, CCSD was short 250 drivers, but as of this writing, the district is short about 80. One reason for the increase in applicants is due to an increase in driver salaries that Executive Director of Transportation Jennifer Vobis implemented earlier this year.
Vobis was able to reclassify employees and change an introductory rate of around $15 an hour to $22.74 for general education school bus drivers and $23.88 for drivers who transport students with special needs. The increase in pay has brought in higher caliber applicants and made the district not only locally competitive but nationally competitive in its salaries, said Amber Rideout, the director of transportation for CCSD.
Schulenburg said the district is now seeing an onslaught of drivers return as well as new drivers applying from outside agencies and other neighboring school districts. He added that while the age groups are diverse, post-COVID-19 he has noticed more retirees looking to be school bus drivers for extra money.
Related: Transportation Family at Las Vegas District Supports Executive Director in Need
Related: WATCH: 2022 Transportation Director of the Year, Jennifer Vobis
Related: Update: Nevada School District Raises Pay Amid Bus Driver Shortage
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Related: Mugging of Deaf Student at School Bus Stop Prompts Safety Reminder
Under the Hood and Greasing the Driver Application Wheel
Meanwhile, implementing the new federal entry-level driving training requirements hasn’t been an issue for CCSD. He noted that the trainers reviewed the material and any necessary adjustments were made to the class.
What he said should make a difference is adopting the federal waiver of the “under-the-hood” engine compartment component of the pre-trip vehicle inspections test required for CDL applicants who are seeking the School Bus (S) and Passenger endorsements (P) as well as the Intrastate-only (K) restriction. STN spoke to Schulenburg in September, when Nevada was considering adopting the under-the-hood waiver granted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). A month later, FMCSA granted a two-year exemption to allow school districts to forego the so-called under-the-hood skills test.
The exemption also means states no longer need to approve the waiver, meaning school districts can immediately implement the change.
He noted that he believes implementing under the hood will benefit the test results for the CDL. “A lot of people tend to freeze up in that area because they’re unfamiliar with mechanics,” he said, adding that Clark County’s own fleet mechanics have struggled with the skills test in the past.