School buses ready to roll

Published 4:07 pm Friday, August 6, 2010

With county schools starting back on Monday, the Chilton County School Transportation Department is working tirelessly to improve on what was a stellar year in 2009-10.

Although the bus shop will not have any additions to its fleet of 106 vehicles, Transportation Supervisor Joe Dennis isn’t at all worried about his department’s efficiency.

Last year, the department received 12 new buses and three special needs buses, each equipped with an air-operated entrance and strobe LED lighting.

The new models also featured digital camera systems and on-board computers that monitor fuel efficiency.

Safety remains Dennis’ and the department’s first priority. Making sure children are safely transported from stops to school and vice-versa is something they will never lose sight of under Dennis. His attitude only makes room for progress and almost no complacency.

“We are never satisfied with our safety performance,” Dennis said. “We are a safety-driven business. Our record is very good in Chilton County.”

Dennis said Superintendent Keith Moore and the Chilton County Board of Education have been highly supportive of the department, making up for any financial shortfalls they have so the department can operate, which might include replacing tires or any other maintenance.

“Safety does not take a break for proration,” Dennis said. “The more setbacks we have, the harder the staff has to work to maintain the fleet at the required state levels.”

The department logged 413,000 total miles during the previous school year and used approximately 50,000 gallons of diesel fuel.

The state estimates there will be a $123,000 shortfall in the fuel budget. The original allocation for fuel was $295,000 (for buses only), and the shortfall has been partially offset by an additional allocation of $43,000.

The Chilton County Bus Shop earned a perfect score in the state’s annual inspection, which included bus braking, exhaust, steering, signaling systems, tires and other safety items. The inspection also included a review of shop personnel positions and records.

All 106 buses were determined to be without a single major deficiency, according to Inspector Ray Jones. Jones insisted this was the first time in his long career that he had ever given a perfect inspection score.

Dennis was considerably pleased not only with the results but perhaps more so with the performance of his dedicated staff.

Bus shop employees are shop foreman Bobby Martin, parts manager Charles Owens, secretary Randi Smitherman and mechanics Lee Mehler, Ronnie Sewell, Kenny Wilson, Mike Thomas and Glenn Johnson.

“Our mechanics, foreman and staff do an outstanding job,” Dennis said. “It’s been hot out here in the summer. These guys are soaking wet when they leave here. They do a fabulous job.”

As for what parents and students can look forward to this fall semester, Dennis said kids should come to their bus stops at least five minutes prior to each bus’s arrival. He also stressed that children never chase a bus they might miss to avoid any injury whatsoever.

Dennis said there are digital cameras on the outside of buses to monitor which cars run the bus’s stop signs once they are stopped to pick up students.

“People texting and using their cell phones will run a stop sign without even knowing it,” he said.

Children are also allowed to bring bottles of water on buses until the current heat wave begins to cool off.