Transportation specialists get on board with Kenton County school buses
Kentucky School Advocate
By Matt McCarty
Dr. Terri Cox-Cruey knew there had to be a better way.
The Kenton County Schools superintendent said she was receiving constant complaints from the district’s transportation employees. “Some of our mechanics were always contacting OSHA,” Cox-Cruey said. “It was continuous, ‘we’re not doing anything right.’”
“OK, what are we going to do?” Cox-Cruey said she asked. “Just tell us what can make us better.”
The answer was a partnership with a private company to manage the district’s transportation while not outsourcing it completely and retaining control over the department’s personnel.
The idea was to have someone without an education background overseeing something very different.
David Throckmorton talks about how Kenton County Schools partnered
with his company to run the district's transportation department.
“We had people running it but didn’t have the expertise needed,” Cox-Cruey said during a clinic session at the KSBA’s annual conference in Louisville. “I wanted the whole thing from a commercial perspective. There are so many details that I didn’t know anyone in our field that could do it. We needed someone who was a real expert.”
She said in two years of the partnership with Transportation Strategies, the district has saved over $3 million.
David Throckmorton, the company’s executive director, said the district’s transportation department wasn’t in complete disarray, but there was “obvious room for improvement.”
The company set out a four-phase approach: strategy, maintenance, administration and continuous improvement.
Improving the bus routes, cutting down on excess inventory and performing preventive maintenance were a few of the things it did to save money, according to Tom Homan, the firm’s director of maintenance.
Bus out of service downtime has been reduced by 78 percent, including a reduction of 200-plus hours of no-start labor; the number of breakdowns during a bus route is down by 55 percent since 2014.
Homan said on Jan. 1, 2014, the district had nearly $400,000 in inventory. Two years later, that number was cut in half.
“They had about $86,000 worth of parts for things they didn’t have,” he said, noting the district had six mufflers for a Ford bus even though it no longer owned any Ford buses.
He said the district was in the habit of buying in bulk, but said there’s no reason to do that.
“Vendors love selling you buses,” he said, “but they really love selling you parts.”
The district created the “just in time” ordering system and the average inventory is down from $2,328 per bus to $1,171 per bus.
The changes resulted in increased mechanic productivity by 23 percent, which eliminated unnecessary overtime.
When district officials first explored the idea, they were met with resistance from employees, but they assured them that the local jobs were safe, Cox-Cruey said. Eventually, most got on board with the changes.
“It started with communicating and getting buy-in to the overall vision,” Homan said.
The district’s transportation department has been accident-free for almost two years and hasn’t had an OSHA call in 17 months, said assistant superintendent Dr. Kim Banta.
Now, Throckmorton said, the key is to sustain the level of progress that’s been made.
“If you don’t keep it that way, you’ve basically wasted your time,” he said.
He said both his company and the district have learned a lot since forming the partnership. Cox-Cruey noted that starting next year her district will take care of the fleet for a nearby independent school district.
“It’s amazing how far we’ve come,” Homan said.