Q&A with Lakeland Union High School

Lakeland Union High School, located in Minocqua, Wisconsin, has an enrollment of over 700 students. It is the largest geographical school district in the state, encompassing over 800 square miles. The district is supported by four independent elementary school districts, covering 12 townships in Wisconsin’s Northwoods recreational area.

What problems, issues, or needs led you to engage Dairyland Group?
Because our high school serves as a transfer point for four independent elementary school districts covering a large and geographically diverse region, our routing and scheduling requirements are unique and quite complex. Some students travel as many as 25-30 miles each way. In addition to the large number of home-to-school routes that come and go from our property each day, our co-curricular transportation needs include 25 varsity sports teams along with their junior varsity and freshman feeder programs. Another challenge involved our busing contracts. We had five independent school districts negotiating separate contracts with different start and end dates, making it impossible to achieve economies of scale and efficiency.

What have the implementation phase and ongoing relationship been like?
Our first order of business was to review and try to condense routes to achieve greater efficiencies. We had too few students riding too many buses, and with an annual budget of nearly $1.5 million, we were looking to find savings wherever possible. The Dairyland team was very willing to listen to these issues and work with us to create solutions using the latest software and routing systems; as an administrator that’s all I can ask for. We started moving in the right direction very quickly.

How is Dairlyand to work with?
We have a tremendous and very cooperative relationship with the Dairyland team, from the top managers to the front-line office staff and drivers. They look ahead and address issues before they become major problems. We all know the expectations and agree on responsibilities; when everyone knows what they have to do, the entire team wins.

What have been the greatest benefits of working with Dairyland?
The greatest benefit of working with Dairyland is their willingness to listen and their ability to problem-solve. They identify the root causes of problems when they arise and immediately start creating solutions; just like I do as an administrator. The fact is the problems are much fewer today than they were in the past. The biggest problem we had in the last three to four years involved a student drop-off on a highway that was difficult to cross. The Dairyland team assessed the situation and addressed it immediately. They simply moved the student’s stop one-quarter mile down the road and the parent was very happy.

Can you share specifically how Dairyland helped you reach your goals?
Our initial goals were to improve routing efficiencies and create a unified contract for all five school districts within our region. Neither of these were simple fixes, but Dairyland helped us achieve both goals. We were able to drop one route, which resulted in annual savings of more than $50,000. We now have one contract, covering all five of our Lakeland area school districts, that puts us all on the same renewal cycle with the same terms, conditions and base rates.

How is Dairyland aligned with the values that drive your school district?
Our number one priority is to meet the needs of our students and that means providing them with a safe and supportive environment from the time they leave home in the morning until they return in the afternoon. Dairyland shares these priorities. They have provided us with cameras on the buses and make sure that drivers are competent and vigilant, especially with so many children switching buses at our designated collection points.

How has working with Dairyland made your job/work life easier?
Dairyland has given me one less thing to worry about. Busing is no longer an issue. I remember when I was an Athletic Director for another large high school where games could not be rescheduled because busing was a problem and nobody wanted to help solve the problem. Here at Lakeland Union, with so many weather-related closings, I have not heard of any games that could not be rescheduled due to busing issues. Our Athletic Department simply works with Dairyland and the changes are easily handled. I’ve worked with school bus companies for more than 22 years, but I’ve never worked with a company more willing to help create solutions to transportation issues.

What surprised you or pleased you the most about working with Dairyland?
Once again, I am constantly impressed with Dairyland’s willingness to listen and address small issues before
they become big problems. They are extremely proactive. Dairyland has put the right people in the right positions and we all benefit.

Would you recommend Dairyland to others? What positive benefits would you emphasize?
Yes, I would highly recommend Dairyland to other school administrators. I’d highlight their willingness to work together toward a common goal. Anytime a service entity is willing to listen and address client issues, that’s a huge plus. Dairyland takes responsibility for getting our kids to and from school safely, which is a huge challenge in our diverse terrain and rough Wisconsin winters. When bad weather hits, we trust in the experience of our local Dairyland manager to guide our administrators to make a unified decision on whether we should close school for the day. She knows the drivers and the equipment very well, and is willing to put herself on the line to make recommendations, and that trumps everything else.

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