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School bus drivers go for the gold in annual competition

July 10, 2012 |  2:05 pm

A conventional yellow bus at the stop line obstacle at the 41st annual School Bus Driver International Safety Competition in Linthicum, Maryland in 2011.

This time of year is not just for Olympians and baseball all-stars to showcase their skills. School bus drivers, too, are competing -- in the 42nd annual School Bus Driver International Safety Competition in Milwaukee.

The event will take place Saturday and Sunday and six Californians will participate.

The drivers, from the U.S. and Canada, must demonstrate knowledge in a written exam and then display behind-the-wheel prowess, with the emphasis on control and safety rather than speed or daredevilry.
         
The California squad will test its mettle in the categories of conventional bus, small bus and transit bus. Drivers include Brent Carman from Morgan Hill Unified School District, south of the San Francisco Bay area, and Antonio Perez of the San Dieguito Union High School District in Encinitas. Drivers from private bus companies also are participating.

California has its own regional competitions called School Bus Safety Roadeos. Perez, a 10-year veteran who started at age 20, ranks as a perennial all-star. The first to claim three state championships including this year's, Perez spends much of his time training other drivers.

The state’s top driver for students with special needs was Robelyn Concillado Watson of the San Diego Unified School District, who began her driving career at 19. Her specialty: going through the paces with a wheelchair accessible bus. She’ll compete at the Disabilities Conference/Roadeo in Frisco, Texas, next March.

The drivers’ toughest survival challenge may be the state budget crisis, which has resulted in sharp reductions to school-transportation spending. At one point, the governor proposed eliminating state transportation funding entirely.

“School bus drivers and other classified employees are absolutely integral not only to the operations of their school district, but they often make a real difference in the lives of the kids they serve,” said state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. “They are knowledgeable, enthusiastic members of their school communities, and they make the safety of our children their top priority."

In the spirit of the bus driver’s sometimes-thankless role, here are a few additional suggestions for future skill categories:

Discipline at a Glance Award: Best icy stare-down of student who won’t remain seated.

Cool Cucumber Award: Best at maintaining a smile and geniality when confronted with parent screaming about late/early/missed bus pickups.

Age of Efficiency Award: Best at navigating the effects of budget cuts, such as longer routes in less time while also mastering fuel-efficiency techniques such as coasting slowly to bus stops.

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-- Howard Blume

Photo: Yellow was the most popular color at last year's School Bus Driver International Safety Competition in Linthicum, Md. Credit: Karin Zeitvogel / AFP/Getty Images

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