LAPS Transportation Department honored during Bus Safety Week

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By The Staff

School principals and others throughout the district hosted an appreciation breakfast Wednesday for Transportation Department personnel.

“Our transportation personnel do an exceptional job of keeping students safe and the department running smooth,” said Facilities Coordinator Tom Littleton, who oversees the department. “Geoff Rodgers left and Keith Rosenbaum has been a great addition to the staff as transportation director. It’s been a smooth transition.”

Littleton also praised the dedication and excellence exhibited by the bus drivers, maintenance personnel and longtime employee, Audrey Washburn, who handles the complicated and often highly stressful dispatch center.

“Audrey is one of our key personnel in seeing that things are running smoothly,” Littleton said. “She is worth her weight in gold.”

Littleton explained that the department has two major challenges, a shortage of bus drivers and the high cost of fuel.

The driver shortage issue is aggravated by competition from Los Alamos County’s bus system as well as area employers such as the casinos, he said. The driver shortage could be helped immensely by stay-at-home-moms who have a couple of hours free, he said, but most are afraid they can’t drive the large buses.

They really can, he said, because they get excellent training.

“We have a great training program and consider ourselves a cut above some of the other districts in terms of giving on-going training,” he said. “The superior mechanical condition of our buses is a feather in the cap of our maintenance crew who do an outstanding job.”

In fairness to other districts, Littleton said Los Alamos doesn’t have a single gravel road, which adds significantly to the wear and tear on buses.

Cameras now installed on every LAPS bus has cut down on student mischief, he said, as has a modern training program targeting driver interaction with students.

With fuel costs soaring, Littleton said they’re “cut to the quick” on how much they can consolidate routes.

Gov. Bill Richardson proclaimed Oct. 20-24 as “School Bus Safety Week” in New Mexico. In his proclamation, Richardson reminds all parents that student safety will always be at the forefront of New Mexico’s public school transportation efforts.

Education Secretary Veronica García, in the governor’s news release, urges all New Mexicans to stay vigilant in school safety zones and near school buses throughout the year.

“Conventional school buses remain the safest form of transportation by vehicle in the country,” García said. “Constant reminders to increase awareness on the part of motorists can keep it that way.”

Littleton agreed, saying the minimal problems the district has had with fender benders is distracted motorists running into school buses. Fortunately, the buses are so well built that they sustain little, if any damage and no injuries whatsoever to students, he said.

The establishment of a school bus safety maintenance program in New Mexico’s school districts and a safety audit program conducted by the Public Education Department ensures that New Mexico’s school transportation system remains proactive. School bus routes and stops are reviewed and approved by school districts, which means they are responsive to local safety concerns.

“In 2007-08, more than half of New Mexico public school students were bused to school daily,” said Carlos Santiago, the department’s school transportation bureau chief, in the release. “New Mexico’s school transportation system still maintains one of the best safety records nationwide. New Mexico’s diligence and hard work is reflected in our safety record. School transportation employees should be recognized for their commitment to safety.”