D211 Post: District 211 Bus Driver Passes 50 Years of Service to District

Bus Driver Bill Dahl has worked as a teacher and bus driver for District 211 for more than 50 years.

          In 1968, then High School District 211 Superintendent Gerald A. McElroy called 22-year-old Bill Dahl to the District’s administration center for an interview to teach physical education and driver’s education at the recently built James B. Conant High School.  More than 50 years later, Dahl still wakes up early every morning to start his work day with District 211.           

Dahl as a teacher in 1970.

Dahl said when he started working for the District, most teachers also doubled as bus drivers.  He said anyone who coached a sport also was encouraged to be a licensed bus driver.

            Dahl said working as a teacher and driver for the District was easy due to the environment.

            “I was 22 when I walked into that building (Conant High School) for the first time and most of the staff was the same age,” Dahl said.  “It’s been a family.  Even though the District is as big as it is, it still feels like a family.”

             Dahl has seen the District 211 bus fleet expand since the late 1960s.  His first bus was bus number 8, a bus he took over from former District 211 Superintendent, teacher, coach, and bus driver Richard Kolze, and Dahl is currently assigned to bus 631.  He said he has seen a vast evolution of transportation over the past five decades.

            “My first bus was a gasoline-fueled bus,” he said.  “Since then, I have driven diesel and now propane fueled-buses.”

            Dahl said that throughout his time with District 211, and Conant High School specifically, he has many vivid memories of how things have changed and advanced.

            “Of course, one of the biggest changes to the District is the size,” he said.  “Another of the biggest changes is special education.  People with special needs

Dahl addresses students at Conant High School’s graduation in 2001.

students move to District 211.”

            Dahl’s wife, Barb, who has been driving buses for the special education program for 28 years, said her bus includes multiple support staff personnel.

            “I have three students in wheelchairs who ride my bus,” she said.  “I have an aid and a nurse who ride along with me.”

            Dahl, who recently turned 74, said that when he retired from teaching 17 years ago, he wasn’t ready to settle down.

            “I wasn’t ready to be a couch potato,” he said.  “I am privileged to continue to work.”

            He said he still looks forward to getting up in the mornings and driving his routes.

            “I like routine in my life,” Dahl said.  “One of the best parts of my day is, I pick up my bus and get to Schaumburg High School a little early where a group of us pull out our lawn chairs.  We sit out there and talk.  The camaraderie that we have developed in transportation is very important.”

District 211 bus driver Bill Dahl (far right) talks with other drivers prior to starting his afternoon bus route at Schaumburg High School.

            Dahl added that he always was grateful for the opportunities he has had throughout his time in District 211.

            “I was so blessed that I got a call from McElroy to come in for an interview,” he said.  “In all the years I taught, I never worked; I went to school.  Even now I don’t see this as work.”

District 211 Bus Driver Recognized for Life-Saving Actions

Director of Transportation Jim Fleischman (left) and Bus Driver Ken Feeley pose at the Board of Education meeting where Ken was recognized for his life-saving actions.

Township High School District 211 Bus Driver Ken Feeley knows the students on his route. For the past year-and-a-half, he has driven students with special needs to school. Each morning is generally routine. He drives the same route, he greets students as they get on the bus, and he watches as parents say goodbye to their children as they are picked up for school.

One January morning something was different. Trusting his instinct, Feeley requested a police well-being check at a student’s house that ultimately led to an emergency response to a life-threatening situation. If not for Feeley’s familiarity with the students on his bus route, the student’s father could have died. Feeley was recognized for his actions by the Board of Education at its Feb. 16, 2017 meeting.

“Everyday when we get to this particular student’s house, he is either in the driveway or in the doorway. He comes right out to the curb when we turn the corner and his dad waits to watch him get on the bus,” Feeley said. “That day, the student wasn’t there.”

Feeley could see the storm door was closed, but the front door was open to the house. Both the student and his father were nowhere to be seen. With the radio-traffic quite busy that morning, Feeley asked an aide to check if the student was coming to school. When the aide returned to the bus with the student, Feeley asked him where his dad was. The autistic student could only reply by saying “basement.”

Knowing that the student’s father had health issues, Feeley called District 211’s dispatch to call the home to make sure everything was all right. When he learned there was no answer, he persistently requested that dispatch call the Hanover Police Department for a well-being check. Upon entering the house, Hanover Police found the student’s father unresponsive, and he was rushed to the hospital.

“The setting wasn’t right,” Feeley said. “Everything was out of sync for that particular family so I requested the check. I later found out that he was taken to the hospital. I am just happy that he got the care he needed and that he is okay.”

Jim Fleischman, director of transportation in District 211, said his department was told that if no one would have found the student’s father he could have died before someone came home.

“Our drivers, especially our special education drivers, look at students on their route as part of their family,” Fleischman said. “That is how they treat and interact with them. They also try to interact with the students’ parents as much as they can.”

Fleischman said Feeley’s actions are not only a testament to the type of bus driver he is, but also a reflection on the District’s transportation department.

“Some of our special education students can be with our District for a long time, and many times they have the same driver throughout their entire time with us,” Fleischman said. “This is particularly important for our special education students that may have a hard time dealing with change – it is important that they see the same driver and aides. That is the benefit to our in-house fleet compared to using an outside company that may have different drivers each morning.”

With a student population of nearly 12,000 students, having an in-house transportation system ensures safe travel and the District’s ability to oversee operations. On an average day, more than 9,700 students are transported to and from school each day. The in-house fleet allows drivers to create connections with students and their families, just as Feeley did.

In this particular case, Feeley’s connection to his students and community made the difference between life and death.


District 211 School Bus Safety Reminders for the Community as Winter Approaches

The District wants to remind the community that by taking an extra minute and obeying a school bus’ stop arm and flashing lights, fewer students are at risk for injury during their commute.

The District wants to remind the community that by taking an extra minute and obeying a school bus’ stop arm and flashing lights, fewer students are at risk for injury during their commute.

As winter weather approaches, driving conditions start to get a little more difficult. Adequate vision can be impaired during a snowstorm, and roads can get icy. That is why it’s important to remember rules of the road while driving near school buses.

During National School Bus Safety Week last month, schools all over the country celebrated school bus safety procedures and practices, as well as looked at where there is room for improvement within the community.

“The biggest concern we have as school bus drivers and in the industry as a whole is stop arm violations,” said Raymond Gawron, director of Transportation and Driver Education at District 211. “There is no way to protect kids from a stop arm violations. Our drivers check front and back, and then give them the OK to cross, but at any given time someone can commit that violation.”

Gawron said out of any sort of traffic violation, stop arm violations are the most prevalent. During one week in the beginning of the year, bus drivers were asked to keep track of how many stop arm violations were committed during that particular driver’s route and the time of day. During the week, 106 buses completed the survey and there were a total of 111 stop arm violations in District 211. On one day nationally, there were 85,279 violations, according to the National Association of Pupil Transportation Services.

When the stop arm is present and lights are flashing, that means students are boarding and exiting the bus. If students are passing in front of a bus and a vehicle ignores the stop arm, that student is at a high risk of being struck. The District wants to remind the community that by taking an extra minute and obeying a school bus’ stop arm and flashing lights, fewer students are at risk for injury during their commute.

“This is something we cannot control,” Gawron said. “Everything else we have some control over, such as what intersections to stop at, whether or not to have kids cross the street, or putting a bus on one side of the street so they don’t have to cross.”

Bus drivers have taken an active approach to try and minimize these violations by working with local police municipalities. Drivers who pass a stop arm will have their license plate recorded by the bus driver, as well as a description of the car, location of the incident, and time. This information will be passed on to the police department who will then deal with the issue.

“We work with all the police in the area, they follow through with our reports, and we are very happy with that relationship,” Gawron said. “Drivers should just be mindful of student safety and not in a hurry.”

District 211 Transportation: The Benefits, High Safety Standards of an In-house Bus Fleet

Safety, the ability to hire qualified drivers, and overseeing training of each driver are some of the few benefits to having a transportation fleet that is entirely run by the District.

Safety, the ability to hire qualified drivers, and overseeing training of each driver are some of the few benefits to having a transportation fleet that is entirely run by the District.

For High School District 211, providing transportation to all students isn’t a simple task. With a student population of more than 12,500, having an in-house transportation program helps the District oversee operations and ensure safe travel. These measures start from day one during a driver’s training, and continue on through daily routines.

Safety, the ability to hire qualified drivers, and overseeing training of each driver are some of the few benefits to having a transportation fleet that is entirely run by the District. Many school districts contract their transportation system, which has the ability to leave schools with a slight disconnect.

“One of the benefits to having an in-house transportation system is the responsiveness, the ability to build relationships between the district, drivers, and students, and connecting with the community,” said Raymond Gawron, director of Transportation and Driver Education.

On an average day, 9,751 students are transported to and from school. There are 165 transportation employees who all work to safely transport students, and District 211 hires and trains each of its drivers. Although the State of Illinois requires a minimum amount of hours for Commercial Driver’s Licenses, District 211 requires even more above and beyond state requirements. Drivers are subject to random drug testing, and if there ever is an incident or accident, the school has the right to investigate.

Each driver is required to do daily checks on their equipment before and after they drive their route, including their two-way radio. This is in correlation with the Illinois Department of Transportation and is part of the Illinois School Bus Driver Curriculum that each driver reviews annually. After each route, shift, and day, drivers are required to shut off the vehicle and walk to the rear of the bus to check for remaining passengers and lost belongings. In addition to safe transportation and equipment checks, if a vehicle is found to have a problem prior to a route, that vehicle is taken out of commission. At this point, the vehicle is brought to the bus garage on the Palatine High School campus, where District 211’s own mechanics can service it.

During the 2011-2012 academic year, District 211’s transportation fleet used 165 yellow busses and 38 vans to travel more than 1,583,769 miles. With a bus fleet of that size, having in-house, certified mechanics is extremely beneficial. If something is wrong, it can be fixed quickly by qualified individuals. It’s another measure the District can directly monitor to make sure proper safety measures are followed.

There are additional safety precautions drivers and transportation employees follow each day in District 211’s transportation fleet. Gawron added that although District 211 isn’t the only school district that manages their own transportation fleet, it’s starting to become rare. However, it’s part of the transportation department’s goal to continue having an in-house system to maintain the same quality of service and level of safety for its students.

“The highlight of transportation in District 211 and our goal is to transport our students to and from school in a safe and efficient manner,” Gawron said.

District 211 School Fees Remain Consistent for Seven Years Straight

District 211 logoIn an effort to help families with educational costs, District 211’s Board of Education approved motions to not raise standard school fees. These fees have been consistent for the past seven years.

The six fees the Board approved at its January 17, 2013 meeting included: Transportation, Driver’s Education, Student Parking, Textbook and Instructional Supply, School Breakfast and Lunch, and Summer School. The only fee to see a slight increase since 2007-2008 is the school breakfast and lunch fee, but the cost for the Free and Reduced Lunch Program will remain the same.

“In recognition of the economic realities in our community, we have not raised school fees for seven consecutive years,” said Nancy Robb, superintendent of schools for District 211. “The only exception has been a very minimal increase in the cost for school lunches due to the fact that the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 (USDA) regulates the amount that should be charged.”

Government regulations, such as the USDA Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, require school districts to maintain set amounts for costs of school meals. Student lunch fees were increased by 10¢ in compliance with the act and the National School Lunch Program.  Federal regulation requires the District to charge a particular price point for meals, and if those prices are not met, an increase of 10¢ per year will incur to reach the regulated rate.

This year’s school lunch rate should be $2.59 based on the new formula; however, District 211 will charge $2.25, $2.40 or $2.55 for its three-tier meal price structure. The same act also has improved the nutritional quality of school lunches.  Students are able to receive double the quantity of fruits and vegetables, a wider variety of produce, and more whole grains.

Another regulation applies to transportation. State legislation requires that students are charged for pickups less than 1.5 miles away from the school. That fee will remain at $170, which has not changed since the 2007-2008 academic year. There is no fee for students who live more than 1.5 miles away from school. Transportation for summer school will remain at $35 per semester.

The Driver’s Education Behind-the-Wheel course fee has not changed since the 2005-2006 academic year. This states that the course fee is not to exceed $350 for the course.
Costs for textbooks and instructional supplies have remained consistent since 2007-2008. The fee is $160 for the school year. Not only does this cover textbooks, but also instructional supplies and participation in athletics and activity programs.

Students who drive to school and park in school lots are subject to pay a fee of $65 per semester. These fees help generate funds for the operations and maintenance budget, which includes maintaining safe parking lots.

Lastly, for students who are required or opt to enroll in summer school classes, fees will remain $140 per semester for credit courses. Non-credit physical education and activity camps will remain $70 per session.  Summer athletic fees for incoming freshmen and sophomores will remain $30, while the fee for competitive varsity baseball and softball will remain $175 for the summer.

For a more detailed look at school fees for the upcoming academic year, please visit the District 211 BoardDocs website for the agenda.