Biloxi Public School System’s Transportation Director, Sam Baily

transWe see them go by every day and think nothing of it. The big yellow buses that transport our kids to and from school, sporting events, and field trips. They are everywhere, in every city of our nation and they are responsible for keeping our children safe and sound as they travel from place to place. But if it weren’t for a very dedicated team of professionals, who maintain these huge vehicles, day in and day out…our children’s safety would be at risk. The city of Biloxi boasts an exemplary record for the past 6 years of being recognized for achieving the highest standards in automotive excellence. It is called the “Blue Seal of Excellence Recognition” and it is the only school district in the entire state of Mississippi to earn this distinction.
In 2003, a new transportation director took over for the Biloxi Public School System by the name of Sam Bailey. He was faced with revamping the department which was in terrible trouble with problems ranging from recruiting drivers to bus maintenance and everything in between. In one year, Bailey began to turn things around. He methodically rebuilt the whole operation using his leadership and administrative skills. “I have 100% eyes and ears through my team which keeps this operation on a five-star level and we have unwavering support from the Board of Trustees, backed by an exceptional school system administration staff,” he said.
There are 13 core elements that keep the transportation system in top form. The director develops all bus routes, and must assess all incidents and concerns that arise. He investigates and reports on all district owned vehicle related accidents and works closely with local and state officials. There are 57 employees that fall under Bailey’s supervision, and he is responsible for keeping to a stringent parameter of the $2.2 million annual budget. All employees work very closely with Bailey and he is “hands on” in all departments.
School transportation departments remain a mystery in most communities. Sam Bailey has an ever changing scenario and must be ready to go to work at the crack of dawn. After heavy storms or in the event of extreme cold, he begins his day at 4:00 a.m. in order to survey the road conditions to make sure the school buses can travel safely. He reports to the superindendent and makes the decision if a delay is necessary. Employees begin their day at the bus compound at around 5:30 a.m. when most of us are still sound asleep. It is a lighthearted gathering as they trickle in but almost immediately they go to work and perform the morning inspections of the buses. “They all look like lightening bugs with their flashlights illuminating the darkness as they check the undersides of each bus,” Bailey said. They test the horns and start the engines, while mechanics stand by to address any deficiencies. When they are given the green light, all drivers depart, one right after the other, off on their respective routes to pick up the children and take them all to school.
The dispatch radio comes alive with driver radio checks, road hazard concerns and checking in to advise of school arrivals. The First Responder vehicle routinely travels the road to check on road construction sites, meet with parents regarding the bus stop locations, and observes the bus drivers to assure they all operate in accordance with governing laws. The drivers generally return to the depot around 8:30 a.m. as all buses are parked neatly in a row. At 1:30 p.m. the drivers return to the compound for their afternoon routes. After the kids are delivered safely to their destinations, the school bus operation continues with an additional commitment to serve the community. No two days are alike. There is always something that needs attention. Routes are sometimes rescheduled to balance time more efficiently and to prevent overcrowding. Bailey makes it a point to meet with military and city officials, public safety agencies, and construction companies to address and assure a safe environment for students walking to schools or to bus stops. Training new driver recruits and staff members also takes place mid day.
The employees range in age from early 30’s to 70’s, and 62% of them have either attended college or hold Master’s degrees. In order to drive buses for the Biloxi System, it is required that you be at least a high school graduate and you must obtain a Commercial Driver’s License, Class B. A medical fitness test is also a requirement. Drivers are randomly evaluated and inspections are conducted without warning to assure their compliance with governing laws and education policies. In order to be hired as a school bus technician, you must be well versed in today’s technology, constantly honing your skills and knowledge of the industry and you must become ASE Master certified. Bailey runs a very tight ship and expects excellence from every driver and every technician at all times.
Similar to cars, school buses need to have routine maintenance. Oil and oil filters must be changed, as well as getting regular tune-ups, brake inspections and rotating the tires. Buses tend to “shake and rattle” as the years pass so inspections of the suspension components and electrical systems are done regularly as well. The frame rails are inspected for fatigue cracks which happens as a result of years of twisting and flexing. The maintenance cost per bus, per year is approximately $1,300 which does not cover fuel or overhead expenses. The Biloxi transportation department building was constructed in 1980. It has three large bus repair bays and one smaller bay for utility vehicles. Parts are available in a matter of hours for special orders but Sam Bailey keeps a solid working stock in house for planned scheduled services.
The national average for school bus replacement is at 10 – 12 years of age, with odometer miles beyond 500-thousand. “Our district has buses reaching 15 years of service that might have 150-thousand miles on them. However, when funding is available we do replace them,” Bailey said. The price of a brand new school bus? More than $75 thousand. Bids are solicited for Blue Bird, International and Thomas Built buses.
There are more than 22 thousand certified school bus technicians in the United States. Less than twelve school districts have the highest level recognition of achievement. To earn the very special “golden” certificate of recognition requires that 75% of the technicians be ASE certified, and one has to hold a Master ASE status. “For six years now, Biloxi Public Schools remains the only school district in the state of Mississippi to earn this award. School bus vendors trust our technicians to perform warranty repairs right here in our shop, rather than return them to the dealership,” Bailey said. The Biloxi Public Transportation Vehicle Maintenance Dept. services more than school buses. They provide scheduled services, repairs, and adjustments to various equipment owned by the district as well. The list includes; police cruisers, utility vans and pick up trucks, extending boom trucks that are able to reach high power and cable lines, lawn tractors, lawn mowers, track vehicles and electric carts.
Sam Bailey took the failing, struggling, Biloxi Public Schools Transportation Department and turned it into an award winning operation that is setting the standard for automotive excellence and leadership in the industry. He has received numerous accolades and praise for what he has accomplished since taking over the department in 2003 but he shares much of the credit with his dedicated employees and staff. In addition to managing the transportation system for Biloxi schools, he is a reserve police officer, contributing several hundred volunteer hours over the past year patrolling the streets and other related duties.
Bailey’s Biloxi operation is acknowledged nationally for innovative ideas and the best business practices. His non-profit children school bus safety activity booklet was adopted by the coastal region “Excel by 5” preschool. He was one of seven Mississippi delegates to serve on the School Bus Congress of Transportation in 2005 and then served as a committee member to update Mississippi Minimum Standards for School Buses in 2006. Because of his leadership, Biloxi Schools have a 100% technician certified repair shop, with 75% of the technicians Master ASE certified.
Go To Places Monthly is proud to name Sam Bailey our Mover and Shaker for the month of February, 2013.

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