Transportation chief moves on

Published 10:22 pm Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Suffolk Public Schools’ coordinator of transportation, Lonnie Reavis, is leaving the district for a new opportunity with Loudoun County Public Schools.

Suffolk Public Schools’ coordinator of transportation, Lonnie Reavis, is leaving the district for a new opportunity with Loudoun County Public Schools.

The man who has borne the brunt of dissatisfaction with the staggered bus schedules Suffolk Public Schools introduced 16 months ago is leaving his post as the district’s transportation coordinator.

Lonnie Reavis will oversee the delivery of Suffolk children to public schools and home again for the final time on Jan. 14.

The next day, he starts a new job as director of transportation with Loudoun County Public Schools.

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Reavis’ current role became more difficult from day one of the new bus schedules. With the introduction of four starting bells instead of the previous two, Sept. 3, 2013, saw back-to-school confusion, with about 125 families voicing concerns to the district that day.

Mechanical problems, cars blocking bus loops, late enrollments, school zone changes and a transportation department phone outage compounded the issues, according to the district.

But problems with the schedule — as reported by angry parents — persisted for months, even after several tweaks.

The plan the School Board approved in early 2013 had been altered from the transportation department’s original proposal. But after a revision last April, students returned to school in the fall on a schedule that the district’s operations chief, Kevin Alston, described as resembling the original cost-saving plan.

Judging by the reduction in complaints from parents — though they haven’t entirely ceased — the altered plan appears to have worked to some degree.

A lack of drivers factored heavily in the issues that were ongoing. In October 2013, Alston reported 24 vacant runs due to vacant bus driver positions and 13 due to drivers on leave. At least 14 double runs were occurring daily, he said.

Reavis said driver gaps that existed at the beginning of the current school year have been solved. He credited the introduction of more competitive pay for part-time drivers: $19 an hour, but no benefits.

“Right now, every run has a driver on it,’’ he said. “We are still a little light on substitutes, so if anyone calls out, we are kind of hurting still.”

But future drivers currently in training will help out with that, he added.

Reavis is philosophical about the staggered schedule fallout, which he said probably ranks in the top-five challenges during his tenure with the transportation department, just shy of 10 years.

“Any time you try something new … there are always going to be growing pains or some challenges,” he said.

Lessons were learned in the first year of implementation and adjustments made, he said. “Things wound up better this year than they were last year, and I’m sure things will get better next year from the things we learn this year,” he added

Reavis said his job has been “difficult at times.”

“The parents complain because the buses are late — they are going to complain because the buses are late, and I really understand that,” he said. “I really wish I had a magical solution to make sure no buses are late, but I can’t.”

Reavis says he is leaving for a better opportunity — a higher rung on the career ladder.

“I love my job and I love the world of transportation. It was just the opportunity that presented itself: to become a director at Loudoun County. I just took that opportunity.”

The outgoing transportation coordinator’s route to his current position was circuitous and unexpected. After joining the school district in September 2000, he first served as a sixth grade math and science teacher at John F. Kennedy Middle School, then as an assistant principal at John Yeates Middle School.

Reavis said former superintendent Milton Liverman tapped him for the transportation job. “He (Liverman) called me asked me had I seen the position (advertised),” he said.

At the time, Reavis had a commercial driver’s license. While at John Yeates, where he had run the buses, he had occasionally climbed behind the wheel to solve issues in North Suffolk.

“After that conversation with him, I thought maybe I will give it a try, and went ahead and applied,” Reavis said. “It’s funny how people help steer you in the right direction.”

In his new role, Reavis said, he will oversee a department with more than 800 buses, compared to 220 in Suffolk.

Reavis said that his wife Suwana, a guidance counselor at Pioneer Elementary School, will join him later in Loudon County, where he will first be staying with family.

“I’m a little excited and a little nervous, all rolled into one,” he said.