Bus guy: Liedl is 'eyes and ears' of Bemidji School District transportation
He's known as the "bus guy," the man with the pink hat and the person who bus drivers look for when it's time to get kids home.
There's a reason Greg Liedl, a former state trooper and the district's transportation director of 12 years, has 232 school toy school buses - items he's collected or been gifted over the last decade or so - in his office.
He works at the heart of the transportation central command system and makes a serious effort to make sure no kid is left without a ride.
At around 3:15 p.m. Dec. 19, Liedl parked his school district vehicle near the Bemidji Middle School, one of the main hubs where buses drop off and pick up students from nonpublic and public schools who need a ride home.
On any given day, at approximately 3:20 p.m., up to 2,000 students unload and load 36 buses from one parking area.
Wearing his trademark pink hat, Liedl adjusted the cellphone attachment clinging to his right ear and briefly listened to the voices over the radio he held in his hand.
"When they start coming out the door, I gotta park 'em and solve problems," Liedl said.
Liedl's main task most afternoons is to make sure the hundreds of students and dozens of buses enter and leave the middle school safely and in a timely manner.
Liedl became the district's transportation coordinator in November 1999. He moved to Bemidji from Alexandria, where he was the transportation coordinator for two years and the safety manager for two years before that for the Alexandria School District. Liedl also was a North Dakota Highway Patrol trooper for 14 years.
Had he stayed on as a state trooper, Liedl said he would have retired last November. But his job at the school district keeps him working, which he seems to enjoy.
"You have to like children," he said. "Kids are funny, but they also have problems."
This is where he comes in, he said.
"I will get problems thrown at me today from 'I have to use the bathroom' to one of the buses is late to a kid who wants to go to a youth shelter who needs special permission," he said. "I find out what, how fast and when. Then I make it happen."
On this day, when the clock strikes 3:20 p.m., more than 1,000 students exit the middle school.
Liedl stepped out of his vehicle and walked to the middle of the bus loading area. There he met and directed one of several school district traffic attendants wearing bright yellow vests to help supervise a bus while a driver stepped out.
Buses are not supposed to move at the end of the day until Liedl makes the call.
"The potential for running over a child in the bus staging area is huge," he said.
As he walked along the long line of buses awaiting their departure, Liedl recalled exactly where each bus was headed.
"That one will go near Pennington," he said, pointing. "That one there is headed to Solway."
Liedl, walking briskly from bus to bus, was approached by a student who recently moved to the area and could not find the bus her mother told her to get on.
Liedl dispatched the bus drivers and asked who would be stopping in the area where she lived. After receiving a response, Liedl told the young student which bus to get on.
"Come on guys! Hurry up!" he then shouted to the clusters of students standing in the bus loading area.
Liedl directed the bus attendants to check in between and underneath the buses for students who may be playing hide-and-seek. After making one last sweep of the area, Liedl brought his radio to his mouth.
"We are departing the middle school. I repeat, we are departing the middle school," he shouted.
With that, 36 buses leave the school, one after another.
"We just moved 2,000 kids in 10 minutes," he said, smiling.
Liedl's day sometimes begins at 4 a.m. when he and a few other weather spotters take a back road on their way to work to check the weather. On "iffy" weather days he calls the superintendent and gives a recommendation on whether or not buses are able to safely transport kids.
"Greg and I have spent a lot of time talking to each other on cold snowy mornings throughout the school year," Superintendent James Hess said. "I trust his judgment implicitly."
When he gets into his office, Liedl checks in with his staff and bus drivers. He can glance at a computer screen to see the location of each bus, its speed and the direction of travel. His face lightened up when he talked about wireless internet now being added to a handful of buses.
"Greg was great to work with when we started using added technology," Hess said. "Our transportation tracking system is excellent."
On days when buses pick up students from after-school activities, Liedl said he might not get home until after 7 p.m.
To him, the transportation system set in place is one he and other staff members have spent years perfecting. If he retired, Liedl said someone else would step up and could do what he does.
His enthusiasm for directing school traffic could explain why the Minnesota Association of Pupil Transportation recognized Liedl as its 2008 Transportation Administrator of the Year.
As part of Beltrami County's emergency management team, the district's transportation department is also available to provide buses in emergencies, such as evacuations.
In March 2010, roughly 125 emergency responders assisted in subduing a massive fire at Regency Park Apartments in Bemidji.
Liedl was called that day by emergency personnel to provide school buses to use as shelters for victims and firefighters.
"Emergency responders rely heavily on Greg for his expertise," Hess said. "It doesn't matter if it's a fire or some type of incident that requires emergency response, Greg is going to be there with buses to keep firefighters or victims warm or shuttling people back and forth. Those are the kinds of things he takes pride in."
Hess said Liedl is the best transportation director he has ever worked with.
"He is very well organized and detail oriented. He has an excellent work ethic," Hess said. "I know Greg is always going to do what's best for kids."