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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, August 28, 2008

Krueger blazes a new route, leading BKW’s transportation department

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

BERNE — Tammy Krueger, the first woman to head the transportation department at Berne-Knox-Westerlo, is excited about her new job.

“I was Alan’s secretary for years,” she told The Enterprise, referring to the decades-long transportation director, Alan Zuk. “That’s where a lot of my knowledge comes from...I couldn’t have had a better boss and teacher.”

Although her job as secretary was technically part-time, Krueger said she worked full-time hours. This summer, her hours officially have been from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“But there’s no way I can leave then,” she said with a smile. “There’s always more to do.”

Zuk retired in 2007, after 35 years as director of transportation. He was briefly replaced by Russ Underwood, who had been a mechanic at Guilderland for nine years. Superintendent Steven Schrade said that Underwood left after three months, saying he felt he needed more experience, and Zuk then filled in, assisting Krueger.

When Underwood left, Krueger was on the committee to find a replacement for him. “Alan said to me, ‘Who knows the job like you?’” recalled Krueger.

She was appointed assistant director of transportation this spring, said Krueger, an interim title that will allow her to qualify for taking the Civil Service test for director. She earns $50,000 annually in the post.

“I had to get my bus-driving license; that was a real eye-opener,” said Krueger.

Although the position is new, Krueger knows the territory and the community. She grew up in Knox and is a 1982 graduate of BKW High School. She currently has a daughter in the Berne school.

Aside from her secretarial work, she worked for a forklift dealer, where she managed a shop with six mechanics, she said.

She relies now on BKW’s head mechanic, David Clark, whom she called her “right-hand man.”

Asked if it is hard to be a woman in a job that has traditionally been held by a man, Krueger said, “It’s easier working with men than women.”

One of the hardest things, she said, is being a boss to people she considers friends. “I worked here as a secretary for so long,” she said, “I became friends with many of them...I still feel like their friend.”

Krueger oversees a department that has 23 in-district bus routes, which serve preschoolers through high-school seniors all on the same run, and 23 out-of-district routes for private, parochial, vocational, and special-education schools.

She plans on being at the job a long time — “as long as they allow me to do it,” said Krueger.

Cost savings

Krueger gave a report to the school board Monday night on some of the cost-saving measures she has instituted.

“In transportation, we’re always, always looking at ways to save,” she said.

A machine was purchased so that tires can be changed in-house. “The labor we paid...bought the machine,” she said.

Air-conditioning repairs are now in-house, too. “The boys are now certified and they can do that,” said Krueger.

Also, savings have been realized by buying parts in bulk.

And, said Krueger, “We purchased locking gas caps, which the drivers are not happy about....The higher the price of gas goes, we’re pretty vulnerable out here,” she said.

Krueger also said she was going to “crack down” on bus idling to save fuel.

There aren’t many places to save, said Krueger, since spending was already “very tight.” She said she changed some bus routes to save money, which made some parents unhappy. The earliest pick-up time is at 6:50 a.m., she said, at the far end of Beebe Road.

The new bus routes are posted on the school district’s website.

One of the challenges, Krueger told the board, is “trying to get the public to realize we don’t have that many [buses]...Four spare buses is really nothing.”

Typically, there are three or four sports trips or field trips a day, she said, and, when the state’s Department of Transportation requires inspection twice a year, those buses have to be parked three days prior. “It looks like a lot of buses, but it really isn’t,” said Krueger.

Clark, the head mechanic, said that by the time a BKW bus is 10 years old, its useful life is over. The first eight years it makes regular runs and the last two years, it is used as a substitute bus. The climate combined with a “not-so-capable way of washing” underneath the bus shortens the useful life of the buses, he said.

The road salt, said Krueger, “kills the buses.” The undercarriages never get washed, she said.

“We try to hit the biggest puddles there are,” quipped long-time bus driver, Ida Motschmann.

Also, said the business administrator, Timothy Holmes, the district’s buses are stored outdoors rather than in a garage.

Superintendent Steven Schrade said that, due to a change in inspection a number of years ago, BKW fell below the passing rate. The school board authorized two more mechanics and now, he said, when it comes to passing inspection, “We’re back to being one of the top districts in the state.” The passing rate is currently 95 percent, he said.

Policies on passengers

The board discussed with several bus drivers and parents in the gallery the procedure for dropping off children and a policy on letting young relatives of drivers ride school buses.

Currently, elementary students are not let off after school if no one is home.

“We have a lot of kids...their parents aren’t home,” said Motschmann, a bus driver for 25 years. “We call Tammy and a lot of times have to bring them back.”

“It’s getting to be more of a problem,” said Krueger, saying there is typically one child on each run each day with no one at home. She said drivers at a large suburban district will “drop 40 kids off and don’t know where they go. We don’t do that. We’re door-to-door.”

Krueger said she asked one parent who wanted her fourth-grader dropped off at home alone for a letter making this request. Krueger described the mother as “irate” and reported, “She said she was trying to teach her daughter independence and I was invading that.”

One member of the audience likened it to teachers now having to do more parenting.

Karen White, a mother sitting in the gallery, said, “You have parents who can’t make it up the Hill.” She said that once, her car was in the repair shop and she was “in the back 40” and was disconcerted when “my kid was not there.”

“Would you rather be safe than sorry?” asked Motschmann.

“I think we’re a little too guarded up here,” responded White.

“The bus drivers feel like babysitters,” said Krueger.

Another parent, Mary Jane Araldi, referred to an earlier incident and said she understood why bus drivers were so careful. In the fall of 2006, a first-grader who stayed for an after-school program was dropped off accidentally at the wrong place, two miles from her home; she was given a ride home by a passing motorist.

Asked by the school-board president what student behavior is like on the bus, driver Jo Ann Rupeka, a 20-year veteran, responded, “I’ve been doing my run for 16 years. They know what I will tolerate and what I won’t.”

The 66-passenger buses average 58 students, said Krueger. Rupeka said that high-school students are “adult size.” She said, “They don’t fit three in a seat.”

Motchsmann, who transports special-needs students, said, “You’ve got to treat them like normal kids. As long as the parents say it’s OK, I treat them to ice cream or Chinese food,” she said of rewarding her passengers for good behavior. “I have no problem with them.”

The board also discussed adopting a formal policy on who should be allowed to ride school buses and will discuss the proposal further.

In the past, when drivers have had difficulty securing child care, the school board allowed them, on a case-by-case basis, to have their young children ride the bus with them, said Schrade. Now, “going down the road a little further,” he said, grandparents have asked if their preschool grandchildren can ride the bus, which warrants a decision at the board level.

Schrade framed the question this way: “Is the board OK with having the bus act as a place for child care?” Other districts have used it as a recruiting tool, he said, due to the shortage of drivers.

“We’re in very tight economic times,” said school board President Helen Lounsbury. “Child care is a big issue up here.”

Krueger noted that if the district transports 3-year-olds — BKW transports five 3-year-olds to its preschool program — they have to be in a car seat with no one behind them.

The district’s lawyer, Beth Bourassa, reviewing a policy proposal on the spot, said there’s no authority to allow underage children of drivers on a bus. “The strict legal answer is you’re not supposed to do it,” she said.

However, Bourassa went on, “That said, you’re not the only district to allow this.” She recommended finding out if BKW’s insurance carrier would cover such passengers.

“That was very enlightening,” said Krueger. “I think that’s something we have to check on.”

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