New company at wheel of school buses
Pam Reipold, executive vice president of F. M. Kuzmeskus, Inc., is busing her business into Vermont for the first time by way of a new contract with the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union.
"I have personally been dying to get into Brattleboro," said Reipold, whose group has about 160 vehicles including school buses, limousines and executive vehicles. "I used to live here in the '90s and I just love this community. So I'm super excited to be up here again."
The contract with former transportation provider First Student was up for renewal this year and the supervisory union put it out to bid. School officials eventually decided to go with Kuzmeskus of Gill, Mass.
"In addition to price we were looking for buses with updated camera systems that principals could easily access, special education buses with additional tie-downs for wheelchairs, and a company that would be very responsive to questions we have and changes we felt we wanted to make," Lyle Holiday, Superintendent of Schools for Windham Southeast, said in an email.
She said the supervisory union is looking forward to working with Kuzmeskus, adding that the group has been "responsive to all our requests and seem willing to work with us."
First Student, a national school bus transportation company, will no longer operate in Brattleboro.
About a month and a half ago, Kuzmeskus started setting up shop at the Putney Road facility where First Student had previously been located behind Brattleboro Bowl. That involved outfitting a maintenance shop and office spaces as well as purchasing vehicles, hiring employees and training them.
Reipold said her company has been family owned and operated for about 97 years. Initially, its transportation contracts involved horses and wagons. Reipold said superintendents would come and check out horses to make sure they looked healthy enough for the job.
"My poor staff, I told them no one gets to sleep until the second week of school," Reipold said. "They're working to make sure everything is as smooth as possible. Our safety manager has had a personal visit and evaluation with every single one of the drivers and has gone to work with them to make sure they're all up to our standards. And they are. So we're super psyched about that."
Many of the drivers, Reipold said, are the same people who worked for First Student.
"Most of them we've retained; they wanted to stay with us and we wanted to keep them," she said. "Continuity is always the best thing. I'm happy about that because they are a great bunch. I've been able to spend time with them in the last six weeks."
About 30 buses will be needed for the job, which features stops at WSESU schools in Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford, Putney and Vernon. They were ordered and camera systems from Canada were installed inside. Holiday said only the buses for students in special education will be equipped with seatbelts.
The goal is to get 35 drivers. There are almost 40 routes, said Reipold.
F.M. Kuzmeskus is still looking for help. The company hires licensed drivers but also trains employees and helps them get their commercial drivers licenses. Also wanted, Reipold said, are bus monitors who can assist students with special needs or provide "an extra set of eyes."
Routes for the school year will start up Aug. 30. Reipold said she thinks parents and children will find her group to be "pretty responsive."
"All our drivers, mechanics and staff operate with safety at the core of everything we do," she said. "But that's kinda the way you got to be when you're a school bus operator."
The idea also is to be as cost effective as possible. Some routes in which buses with students going to Brattleboro Union High School were following buses going to the Brattleboro elementary schools will be changed to save time. Green Street School and Oak Grove School will each have a bus specifically designated for students traveling to and from their schools.
And each school will be assigned one of three route managers from Kuzmeskus. That will provide more personalized service in Reipold's view.
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at email@example.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.
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