Lesson Learned

When I ran for the Upshur County Schools Board of Education for the first time over 10 years ago, probably the last thing on my mind was that, if elected, I would become responsible for a fleet of 46 buses, managing the largest public transportation system in Upshur County. Yet here I am moving the adoption of Policy 9001 for school transportation at the January 19, 2021, BOE meeting.

Then at the February 9, 2021, BOE meeting we are adopting the West Virginia Board of Education Transportation Policy as put forth by Upshur County Schools Director of Transportation, Jodi Akers. We are being introduced to Global Positioning Services (GPS) now on 13 buses. Stephanie Bennett, transportation supervisor, shares information and directs our attention to future improvements.

My LESSON LEARNED has to do with safety, which has remained my main concern from day #1:

     *We must be sure each and every student is picked up and returned to his/her proper home address and to a parent or legal guardian.

     * Our transportation department must have basic knowledge about student health and special needs. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) skills must be as good as driving skills.

     * Where we have students who are receiving Medicaid reimbursable services, we must record data efficiently and accurately.

     * And in this uncharted year of COVID-19, we need transportation data for contact tracing.

Apropos to this last point—our transportation department was a “hot spot” last October 2020 when we had eight infected “essential workers” out of a department of 55 employees. We needed full quarantine for 23 persons. At that point our Upshur County Schools had to close. Dr Sara Lewis-Stankus, Superintendent, managed the crisis well. She ordered everything be done for the safety of our community. “Doing so will more effectively limit the spread of the virus within this outbreak,” she said. “Our priority is the safety of our students, employees, families and the community at large. Therefore, we support the health department’s request to maintain full quarantine.”

I joked with Transportation Director Akers and Transportation Supervisor Bennett that they have cut down a forest to get all the paper needed to print their exhaustive policies. The update is vital, as we have not done a top-to-bottom review for some time. It is vital as we adopt computer technology that will bring us up to the 21st century. I remember when caring for health care needs of veterans, I’d be leading a team from Central Office in Washington, DC. These “big wigs” had satellite tracking for their phones. Now, our own Upshur County Schools Transportation Department will avail themselves of just such scientific and technological advances. Will wonders never cease?

Next to safety concerns are financial concerns I have learned over the years. Our Upshur County Schools Treasurer/School Business Official, Jeffrey Perkins, educates our BOE about a favorable and allowable purchase arrangement with the West Virginia Department of Education. 90% of our transportation expenses for high tech measures is added to our local budget. This is vital to us at this juncture, as we are one of five counties working our way out of financial distress. Another rule we must follow is to have two months of operating expense in a savings account for emergency use only. We are nearly compliant, and Perkins, who graduated from Buckhannon-Upshur High School in 1979 and joined the military shortly after, is ecstatic for us to be dotting every “i” and crossing every “t.”

Probably my main lesson learned this week is that our administrative team, from Transportation Director Akers to Treasurer Perkins to Superintendent Stankus, are all performing well—we are living up to our motto: “EXPECT EXCELLENCE!”


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