Q&A with Mesa County Valley School District 51

Covering more than 2,200 square-miles in and around Grand Junction, Colorado, Mesa County Valley School District 51 serves more than 22,000 Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade students in 28 elementary schools, eight middle schools, four high schools and seven alternative schools.

What problems, issues, or needs led you to engage Student Transportation of America (STA)?
During the 2014-2015 school year, we issued an RFP for our district transportation contract as a way to check the market and make sure we were getting the best value and service for our transportation investment. At the time, we were not unhappy with the service of our current transportation provider and did not expect to make a change. Once all the bids were in, however, STA was the clear choice. In addition to the best price, STA offered us a brand new fleet of clean-burning, propane-fueled vehicles. Once STA was in place, we realized what we didn’t have with our previous provider and the differences were stark.

What have the implementation phase and ongoing relationship been like?
The transition between contactors was relatively painless. STA was wise to keep most of our routes in place in the beginning and tweak them over time. This past year our district decided to embrace a later start time for middle and high school students, which required a complete redesign of our routing structure. STA has been a critical partner in this year-long process of evaluation and restructuring; we could not have done it without them. Getting more than 130 buses at the right place, at the right time in an efficient manner is a complicated dance.

The key to our positive relationship with STA is the company’s on-site manager. First Shane Anderson, and now Operations Manager Mike Yeager have worked hard to be good partners with our district. They look at every situation from the perspective of what’s good for our district is good for STA in the long run. They are committed to do what’s best for our school district and the larger Grand Junction community and we really appreciate that. STA recently donated the services of more than 60 buses and drivers for our annual Special Olympics event. A number of STA employees volunteered to help run the event as well.

What have been the greatest benefits of working with STA?
The benefits of working with STA were apparent from the get-go. The newer, environmentally-friendly propane vehicles were the first big plus. And the STA team is much more responsive and customer-service oriented than our previous contractor. The relationships between the district and our mutual staffs are just better all around. And equally important is the fact that the drivers are now better paid and happier.

Can you share specifically how STA helped you reach your goals?
STA exhibits a real commitment to safety, which is our primary goal. When we put our contract out for bid in 2015, our initial goals were to maintain the status quo and make sure the price was right. Once we switched to STA the difference was like night and day; STA exceeded our expectations. We had no idea how good transportation services could be. It’s really all about STA’s corporate philosophy and the service mentality of STA employees. The commitment to doing the right thing for the customer starts at the very top of this company and is reflected on the local level in all they do. STA offers high-quality service at a good price and treats drivers fairly.

How is STA aligned with the values that drive your school district?
Schools are people businesses and dealing with people requires a lot of heart and caring. That’s hugely important and STA employees reflect that caring in all that they do. If we take good care of people, everything else seems to work. We have an unofficial motto here in the district – regardless of what happens during the day, if all the kids get home safe it is a good day.

How has working with STA made your job/work life easier?
STA has made my job tremendously easier. They handle issues before they get to my desk and they do a much better job in student management than our previous contractor. I certainly get fewer secondary complaints from parents about bus discipline.

What surprised you or pleased you the most about working with STA?
I was really surprised at the emphasis STA put on building and nurturing positive relationships between their staff and our district staff. I’ve also been really pleased with the new propane fleet, which reflects very well on our school district’s commitment to safety and to the environment.

Would you recommend STA to others? What positive benefits would you emphasize?
I have recommended STA to other school districts many times. I always emphasize the value of STA’s corporate culture, the importance they place on driver training and their commitment to safety.