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Yuma schools transit group names new director
The Yuma Schools Transportation Consortium (YSTC) has a new director, one who brings almost 25 years of experience to the job.
Ron Schepers was recently named transportation director for YSTC. The consortium includes schools in the Yuma Union High School District and Yuma Elementary School District 1 as well as Arizona Western College, Northern Arizona University-Yuma and University of Arizona-Yuma.
Schepers began his career in transportation as a mechanic in 1988 after his time in the U.S. Army. He was a substitute bus driver, training bus drivers, doing dispatch work and overseeing student management and discipline. Before coming to Yuma, he was transportation director of Renton (Wash.) School District.
“When I got into that public school transportation organization ... I really fell in love with the industry just because there was a lot of collaboration and camaraderie, not only within the district itself but with other public schools working and gathering together to do the best work they can to positively impact students. That made a big impression on me on how focused different entities were ... all for the goal of educating students.”
As transportation director for YSTC, Schepers said he oversees everything from budgets and equipment repair to the training of drivers and trip activities.
Within the six schools in YUHSD and 17 campuses in District 1, YSTC transports students from 4:15 a.m. to 6 p.m. about 12,000 miles a day over the course of a 180-day school year.
“That does not include out-of-town trips, or athletic trips or games and things like that. This is just the hours we're in operations for daily to-and-from school transportation on school days.”
Of the almost 6,000 students they transport, he said, 5,600 are regular education students and 370 are special needs students.
Schepers added that they have 131 regular buses that travel 346 routes daily and 44 special needs buses with wheelchair lifts and other accommodating features that travel 157 routes daily.
All of this is accomplished with 135 bus drivers and 45 bus aides assigned to special needs buses. He said they also have 18 people in their shop, including mechanics, foremen and parts coordinators as well as 14 office staff members doing things like payroll, routing, dispatch work and working with student management and staff training.
In addition to school buses, he said, they perform maintenance on other district vehicles and provide transportation for activities sometimes as far away as New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, California and even Canada.
“We do work with other local school districts that ask us for it, to do trips or maintenance on their buses from time to time, and also other local agencies, like we have a EMT group from one of the local fire stations that we provide access to purchase our fuel.”
Schepers said some of the biggest obstacles transportation directors all over the country have had to overcome include a combination of rising fuel prices and aging fleets.
“Fuel prices have been a struggle for the last few years everywhere. One of the real problems with that is that fuel prices can be so unpredictable. You want to budget enough money so that you can take care of your needs that you have as far as fuel goes. But because the price fluctuates up and down so much you have to really be careful to budget enough so you don't run out of budget money or capacity partway through the year.”
Schepers said they try to budget as closely as possible for what they might need in order to not tie up funds that could be used somewhere else. In that same vein, he said, they are constantly searching for grants and other funding opportunities that can be used in other areas of their budget to loosen up revenue to support increasing fuel prices.
One of his current projects, Schepers said, is working to establish a replacement cycle for buses as well as other equipment used in the district such as other vehicles and even lawn mowers — basically anything with an engine.
“We do work at having a replacement plan for items to get the best value out of what we own because the older things get, the more unreliable they become and the more expensive they can be to maintain.”
The consortium will be receiving five new buses within the next month that run close to $120,000 each.
“They are expensive ... but newer buses, just like newer cars, generally get better fuel economy ... It becomes more economical to have newer equipment, even though it's a high-capital outlay, than continuing to run older equipment that you've already paid for.”
Schepers said that ultimately, his goals are to provide safe, courteous and caring transportation for customers.
“I have a great staff here to work with and I believe that there are great staff members out there that I've met and that I've worked with that are really committed to their job ... I think that makes for a great (team) process to get kids' needs met, because that's what we're here for.”
Sarah Womer can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6858. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSSarahWomer or on Twitter at @YSSarahWomer.