From the Transportation Department: A Glimpse into School Busing at SPPS

Tom Burr, Director of Transportation


I started my transportation career as a 20-year-old school bus driver. It was the perfect schedule for a college student: six hours a day, nine months of the year. My first route was a rough one. Kids threw spitballs the size of softballs at the windshield from inside the bus.

Three decades later, driving a school bus can still be a challenge. But it’s one that the great majority of drivers for SPPS meet with flying colors. On any given school day 33,000 Saint Paul students board a yellow bus, which travels one of more than 1,700 routes. These routes cover no fewer than 30,000 miles each day.

And it all adds up to 5.2 million miles per school year. Contemplate that astounding number during this National School Bus Safety Week.

To benefit all riders, SPPS Transportation is now training our drivers in the principles of PBIS*. Each year we bring drivers and school administrators together to discuss mutual goals and challenges. In January 2016 we will convene the first-ever district-wide meeting of all 400 bus drivers. Among many topics, we’ll talk about racial equity. We’ll talk about keeping students at the center -- starting with a smile when they board the bus, and building relationships from there -- and we’ll talk about morale.

I am proud of the progress we’ve made. The “MySPPSBus” app has helped tremendously in allowing school clerks and parents to track buses. On a typical day fewer than five percent of our buses are 10 minutes or more late, but each of those buses represents multiple worried families. I want to relieve that anxiety of waiting for the bus, and I believe within a few years we will be tracking buses with variations of technology that’s already available.

We also have had a successful beginning to the Metro Transit pilot at Johnson High School. Early feedback has been uniformly positive, including more kids staying after school to focus on academics, and exponential increases in attendance at student leadership activities. I am hopeful that Metro Transit will solve their capacity challenges and be able to serve more SPPS schools in the future.

During my 30 years of getting kids to and from school, technology has changed dramatically. It will continue to evolve. But school transportation is still a human system that requires real people to keep it running smoothly and safely. I don’t think that will ever change.

Tom Burr
Director, Transportation

* Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS) is a way for schools to create and sustain positive, effective and culturally-inclusive environments that support academic and social success for all students.