LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- He's only been on the job for 10 days, but Randy Frantz has quickly learned the importance of his new role as JCPS transportation director and the challenges it can bring.

"We have 70,000 kids who rely on us to get them to and from school safely and on time each and every day," Frantz said. "Our drivers are often the first and last people from JCPS that our kids see every day. It's such an important job in this district."

Frantz, who previously worked as an operations manager at GE's national sales center, has wasted no time in getting to know his employees. He rode along on one route last week, and, on Wednesday, he spent time on Darlene Cecil's school bus.

"I have had the opportunity to visit a couple of compounds," he said. "I wanted to get out and ride a bus, meet some of the students and some of the personnel within the schools. Seeing the level of passion that our drivers have for the safety and well-being of our students has been very admirable."

Frantz says it has been a good two weeks, but there have been challenges -- from the first day of school when 400 students were stranded on buses on Interstate 71 after a multi-vehicle crash to the overcrowding of buses that typically comes at the start of each year.

"I was amazed at the level of inclusiveness and the teamwork within the district to help ensure that those kids were taken care of as promptly as possible," he said, noting that within a week officials had announced new procedures to help keep students safe if its buses become stranded or stuck in traffic.

Frantz is also aware of the problems hundreds of JCPS bus drivers faced last year as they dealt with disruptive and abusive student behavior.

Data released by the district over the summer shows there were 17,662 bus referrals written during the 2015-16 year – a 168% increase from the 6,571 referrals that were reported in 2014-15, according to data obtained by WDRB under Kentucky’s open records law.

"I am a product and a customer of Jefferson County Public Schools, so I am aware of situations that have happened in the past," he said. "We look at every situation seriously, especially as it pertains to the safety of our students."

Frantz replaces Rick Caple, the district's former longtime transportation director who retired this summer.

"I understand that I am replacing a legend," Frantz says about Caple. "I want to continue what Rick was able to do and make it even better."

Cecil has spent 8 years driving a school bus for JCPS. She says she's happy to see Frantz making the rounds at the district's bus compounds.

"We do have some challenging runs that could use some extra help," she said. "We need to put him on a couple of those runs so he can figure that out."

Frantz says he also wants to help JCPS address the shortage of bus drivers the district has experienced in the past year and boost morale.

"I want all of our bus drivers to feel valued," he said. "It is a great privilege to be responsible for the transportation of these 70,000 kids and it truly is a team effort."

Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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