Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Sterling Council announced on May 9 that the Orange County Public Schools Operations Division will receive the Governor's Sterling Award, which is the highest award an organization can receive for performance excellence in Florida.
The district’s Operations Division manages the core functions of Food and Nutrition Services, Safety and Security Services, Building Code Compliance, Environmental Compliance and Transportation. Transportation Services operates 906 school buses (also keeping 200 spares) that complete 2,800 runs per day.
Jim Beekman, senior transportation director, told STN it was the first time that OCPS applied for this award, which celebrates sustainability. On May 30 Gov. Scott will present the Governor's Sterling Award to OCPS Superintendent Dr. Barbara Jenkins as part of the Sterling Council’s weeklong conference.
“This (award) is the type of thing that builds the morale of the department. We’ve got a lot of great employees who have been there for a long time, who fought the good fight to try and do things the right way, and it’s just nice when they get recognized for doing that. So they’re pretty stoked about it,” said Beekman.
He recalled Sterling Council representatives spent a week in the Operations Division auditing three years’ worth of data, talking to front-line staff and meeting with school district customers. The representatives hail from a variety of backgrounds besides education, including the banking and healthcare industries.
In announcing the award, the Sterling Council commended the Transportation Services department for demonstrating “several important best-in-class operational results, including sustained on-time arrival of buses of better than 98 percent each year, from 2010 to 2013.” In addition, they noted the transportation cost per student has decreased from $914 in 2010 to $869 in 2013. With 72,000 students riding district buses, this translates into cost savings of nearly $3 million within that span.
Beekman explained that the huge cost savings was realized via sustainability measures such as fuel initiatives, an anti-idling campaign and a filter program. In addition, 60 percent of the fleet is running on biodiesel, and the remainder on ultra-low sulfur diesel. They also moved to a 10-year bus replacement cycle, eliminating models on Type-D chassis that would only get five miles per gallon (mpg) and switching to Type-C models that get 8 mpg. Because OCPS school buses travel more than 17 million miles annually, this again translates into significant savings, according to Beekman.
“A lot of it was done through routing efficiency,” he noted. “In Year 1, we were able to take 37 buses off the road by tweaking some times and doing other things. We’ve been able to maintain that and we finished with 900 routes this year, which is the same number we had three years ago despite a 2-percent growth per year in the student population.”
He said that utilizing key performance indicators, or KPIs, has made a world of difference, especially with handling such challenges as serving a growing homeless student population that numbered 1,400 last month.
“The biggest cost is special-ed transportation, which has the highest cost per student. But even the homeless student (transportation) is now eclipsing that cost because we are going through multiple zones,” he added. “We have to go and get them because we’re the home-zone school district. That’s the way it is for every district in the nation. You look at the economy and it’s growing, but that population is growing as well. Some things just don’t make sense.”
Looking ahead, Beekman is still striving to achieve cost savings along with increased sustainability. Recently he completed a cost analysis on propane- and CNG-powered school buses, which involved site visitations at districts already operating these vehicles.
“We’ve using KPIs extensively for about three years and it’s been paying off dividends,” he continued. "We have used scorecards where we measure and we do environmental scans. We also look at other districts in the Council of Great Cities Schools that are using the same KPIs, to measure and compare and develop best practices. Orange County is a member district of the Council of Great Cities Schools, which developed the KPIs...
“It was great to be recognized for our efforts."