Q&A with Columbia Public Schools

The Columbia Public School District, centered in Columbia, Missouri, has a student population of more than 18,500 and serves much of Boone County. The district contracts with Student Transportation of America (STA), which provides 215 school buses to transport nearly 9,000 students to 31 schools across a 300 square-mile area.

What problems, issues, or needs led you to engage STA?
When I moved into the transportation role in 2001, our district’s school bus contractor had been in place for 23 years and the system was plagued with problems. The low unemployment rate in our area made it hard to find drivers and, as a result, buses were running late and service was deteriorating. A late bus in the morning means kids miss breakfast, and delays in the afternoon results in missed after-school appointments. As negative feedback from administrators and parents grew, we started to look for alternatives. In 2015, we decided to put the contract out for bid rather than renew our existing contract. STA was awarded a five-year contract beginning in the 2015-2016 school year.

What made you choose STA? What made their services stand out from others?
A number of factors made STA the clear choice for Columbia Public Schools. Busing is not top of mind for school board members; they would rather spend money in the classroom. Our previous contractor’s rates had inched up over the years and STA came in with a very attractive bid. They also offered us a fleet of brand new buses, which was a big plus.

What have the implementation phase and ongoing relationship been like? The STA contract did not officially start until August 1, 2015 and our previous contractor stayed on through summer school, which ran throughout the month of June. That was a challenge because it gave STA just one month to make the transition on-site, but STA rose to the challenge. They established an off-site office and began to hire staff in February 2015. By the first day of school, STA was ready to roll.

One of the main differences between STA and our previous contractor is the commitment STA demonstrates at all levels of the organization. With our previous contractor, I rarely saw anyone higher up than the local terminal manager. Two of STA’s regional leaders have made numerous trips here to talk with their local team, ask me how things are going, and talk with parents. On the local level, the STA manager has worked hard to build a good relationship with the unionized drivers. Many came over from the previous contractor where there was a wedge between drivers and management. STA has worked hard to build a bridge that has resulted in a morale boost throughout the transportation operation.

Can you share specifically how STA helped you reach your goals?
Our biggest goal was to improve on-time performance and that has much improved with STA. Whenever you work with different personalities there will always be occasional issues, but our local STA managers always give 100 percent and the company’s regional leaders provide the local team with tools that make it easier to get the job done.

How has working with STA made your job/work life easier?
The local STA management team has definitely made my life easier. When parents contact me with issues, I frequently ask STA to get back to them. The drivers are their employees, not mine, so they can quickly get to the root of the issue.

Would you recommend STA to others? What positive benefits would you emphasize?
I do recommend STA to others and tell them that our district is pleased with STA’s performance. We’re in our fourth school year with STA and there are no whispers of dissatisfaction that plagued our previous contractor.

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