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Yellow school buses are only part of the transportation story

Director of Transportation Richard D. Kingsberry, at left, and UCPS Regional Planning Manager Steve Griffin, discuss the impact of a new subdivision on attendance areas and transportation services. (Below) Michael Marion, fleet service supervisor, at left, and Keith Dockery, a UCPS mechanic, perform an engine diagnostic on a school bus at the UCPS School Bus Garage. (Middle) UCPS mechanic and fuel truck operator, Tony Powers, listens for abnormal engine noises during a routine engine check. (Bottom) Victor Dermid, a UCPS mechanic, works on a school bus in the transportation garage.

The smiling face of a school bus driver is what most people picture when they think of the Union County Public Schools Transportation Department, but that’s just a small piece of the total equation.

“A lot of folks come together to make transportation what it is,” said Director of Transportation Richard D. Kingsberry. “It’s not solely a yellow school bus, but that’s all people see -- that yellow bus. There’s a lot of behind the scenes work.”

With a fleet of 350 yellow school buses and about 60 activity buses, it takes a small army to keep these big vehicles running. There are 25 mechanics assigned to the Transportation Department, with each being responsible for between 26 to 36 buses.

Victor Dermid is a two-year veteran mechanic with the UCPS Transportation Department. He enjoys his job because he knows how important it is.

“We keep children safe, each and every day,” Dermid said. “It’s a hard job, and sometimes a little trying, but the reward is worth it.”

During the regular school year, the department utilizes 315 of those 350 school buses on a daily basis to transport approximately 30,000 students to and from school. “We have the extra buses so that we can have continuous operation,” Kingsberry said, explaining that if a school bus breaks down or is out of commission, transporting students in a timely fashion takes precedent.

Kingsberry said bus drivers are often underappreciated by the public. “The drivers are the most visible; yet generally get the least amount of credit or acknowledgment for what they do. They are big contributors toward the educational process in Union County Public Schools.”

Even when the school bells ring for summer break, the transportation staff continues the job. “We still provide transportation services during the summer, just on a smaller scale,” Kingsberry said.

There are about 60 school buses that run for students who attend the year-round schools, with an additional 35 that run for various summer or after-school programs.

“That’s about one third of the total number of UCPS school buses,” Kingsberry said. “With a lot of our equipment parked, it gives us time to do additional maintenance that there isn’t time for during the school year.”

Buses are inspected every 30 days, with periodic maintenance done inside the Transportation Garage. There are things, however, that can be postponed.

“I’ve seen mechanics keep a list of things that are not emergencies, and can be done during the summer,” said UCPS Regional Planning Manager Steve Griffin.

Those minor things include repairing faded decals on a bus or doing spot painting. “We don’t paint the whole bus, but if we have a scratch on the side of the bus, we can do some minor painting,” Kingsberry said.

Summer months provide particular challenges, however, as the mechanics are working often in 90-degree plus heat.

“They may pull the buses into the Transportation Garage during the summer to work on a major repair, but for the most part, they work out where the buses are parked at the schools,” Kingsberry said.

“We have a screen that serves as protection, kind of a miniature hood or tent that extends over the hood of the bus, that helps fight off the sun,” Kingsberry said. “But the heat is a safety concern. We talk to them about staying hydrated. That’s constantly emphasized.”

Griffin said mechanics work earlier hours during the summer (6 a.m. until 4 p.m.) to take advantage of somewhat cooler temperatures.

No matter what time of year, however, Kingsberry said the goal of the UCPS Transportation Department remains the same.

“Our goal and our mission is to provide safe, orderly and efficient transportation services for the children of Union County Public Schools,” he said.

Written by: Deb Bledsoe - UCPS Communications Coordinator
Posted: Jul 29, 2015 by Deb Bledsoe

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