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School District’s Transportation Department Expanding Its Role
Veteran OJUSD bus driver Patty Maaske seated in her new position as a Special Education Transportation driver. She noted it’s a role she is thrilled to be taking on. Teresa Hammond/The Leader

Oakdale Joint Unified School District continues to work toward serving all of its student body.

This commitment to student services has continued by way of the OJUSD Transportation Department which recently added two buses to its fleet to serve district Special Education students.

“It started a few years before I got here,” OJUSD Director of Transportation Ralph Meza III said of the district’s goal to discontinue using the services provided by Storer Transportation. “The logistics and the strategies were kind of vague and a little blurry.”

Meza went on to say the addition of the services to the transportation department was one of his goals upon joining the district in October of 2019.

“Lo and behold, that’s exactly what this team did,” Meza said of his 18 drivers, as well as support staff.

Plans to add the two busses first began in early 2021. The launch of the services began in the 2021-2022 school year and has been so well received by OJUSD families that a third bus is now on order. The busses currently transport elementary age (K-6) special ed students for the district.

“The girls did take a three day course on their summer vacation,” Certified Instructor, Katherine Songer shared of the drivers taking part in added training. “They were paid, but that was out of their own time, they attended willingly.”

“Oakdale has never had wheelchair busses,” Songer continued. “So that’s a whole other ball game in itself learning to use the wheelchair.”

The “girls” would be the two additional drivers added to the team to operate the Special Needs busses. One driver, Patty Maaske, has been with the transportation team for 22 years, initially serving as a substitute.

Maaske shared when she learned of the addition to the transportation department she jumped at the opportunity to switch from General Ed route driving to Special Education.

“Working with special needs children … that’s what I want to do,” Maaske shared, noting that she is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree to be an Intervention Specialist.

The long-term goal of the district now realized, achieves a number of things. The service now provided to local families whose children will have shorter bus rides as the busses service only Oakdale students, as well as the financial impact of not outsourcing the service to a third party.

“The district is able to provide a much broader service with its own employees, as opposed to out sourcing,” Meza said.

“Aside from the fiscal impact, which is obvious, you know everyone wants to know about the fiscal impact of course,” the director continued. “But I think more the moral aspect … the fact that our own people, our own community members, our own team is providing these services for parents and our staff and our community.”

Long time transportation employee, dispatcher Cheryl Reinhardt, shared the gratification felt at seeing this come to fruition.

“It’s amazing just to see the change with our parents and our students,” Reinhardt, a 28-year veteran said. “How appreciative they are that they have this service now. It just benefits their students in so many ways. I was glad I was here long enough to actually see it happen. It was much smoother. Everything seemed to just flow real well with the Special Ed, opposed to some of the craziness that goes on with our General Ed. The parents have been extremely happy with our services.”

The team anticipates with the addition of the third bus and growing awareness of the newly added service, they will be able to service a total of 70 special ed students.

Depending on the needs of the student passenger, an aide or nurse may also ride with the drivers to ensure all passenger needs are met.

“What’s great is our aides are the aides that they have in school. These are the aides that are working with our children,” Songer said.

“This was huge. Not just for the community. Not just for the district, which in itself was big. But for this department,” Meza said of his team and the growth opportunity. “They’re not just the transportation department. They’re the ‘Mustang Movers’ and that’s what they do. They provide services for all the Oakdale Joint Unified School District Mustangs. We’re really, really proud. Proud to be able to offer this service to our community.”

“We’ve run this without any hiccups,” Maaske said of the additional buses and routes. “It’s going smoothly. The kids are always happy. They’re happy to see you. They’re ready to go.”