Going by the book and sharp attention to detail is what you would expect from anyone responsible for steering a 1,000-foot long aircraft carrier. Randy Arndt, Vinton-Shellsburg’s director of transportation, has had that experience aboard the Nimitz-class, U.S.S. Carl Vinson, and now he enjoys using those skills to guide the 27 school bus drivers of the Vinton-Shellsburg transportation department through a safe school year.
Providing for the training of the drivers is one of Randy’s most important responsibilities.
“The first thing we do, if the background check is OK, is to take them on a few trips to see how they do with the noise, and the general chaos involved in transporting students,” Randy explains. “At my previous transportation job I once invested a lot of time in a person who, after a few days on a bus with the kids, handed me the keys and said he wouldn’t be back. So step number one is determining whether the person likes the environment of being on a bus with 50 kids.”
The next steps involve four tests, the class B CDL, the airbrake test, the passenger bus test, and finally a school bus test. After passing the tests, district mechanic Roger Bisline or Randy takes the prospective driver out a few times to drive the bus without students. The next step is to teach the pre-trip inspection routine. Following that is a driving test with the DOT including a section of the test requiring the driver to name and locate all the inspection points before a school bus can roll onto the street.
With a good crew of maintenance personnel and drivers, Randy says he has few complaints. The two problems he does encounter are parents who become upset because drivers didn’t see something on the bus involving their student, and impatient drivers.
“The most important job of the driver is to drive the bus safely,” says Randy. “We’re all very protective of our children, and I understand how upsetting it can be when a child is picked on, or hurtful words are thrown around, but it’s impossible to be a safe driver and see everything going on to the back of a bus while traveling down the road.”
Impatient drivers accounted for only five instances of passing a stopped school bus this year, but even those few instances cause Randy and the drivers a lot of concern.
“Outside of town drivers use horn honking, and flashing their lights to indicate that they wish we would hurry up,” Randy says. “Most of these violations have happened in town, and they involve our special education buses. It often takes longer for those kids to get from the house to the bus, it takes some time to get them inside the bus, and longer yet to get them securely in the seat. If I could wish for anything, it would be that drivers have patience when they encounter a school bus, regardless of where it’s at. Driving around a school bus, or distracting a school bus driver create hazards for our kids, and makes it harder to do our most important job, which is to get them safely to school and back.”
“What I enjoy most about my job,” says Randy, “besides the great crew I work with, are the kids. I make it a point to be at the middle school every day I can to keep an eye on all the bus activity there, and it’s great when the little ones give me a high five or a fist bump.”
Randy’s wife, Gail, works for the U.S. government from an office in Cedar Rapids, and it was her job promotion that brought them to eastern Iowa. In addition to five years on an aircraft carrier, Randy trained bomb and drug-sniffing dogs for fifteen years in the Navy, has worked in law enforcement, and has driven buses carrying Iowa Hawkeye sports teams. The Vinton-Shellsburg position is Randy’s second school transportation director’s job.