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School Bus Tech Takes Top Award

Adrian Ionita, bus technician, is among the best mechanics in the state.

District 49 has a sharp tool inside the transportation building. Adrian Ionita, school bus technician, was named the first-place bus mechanic at the State Road-e-o Contest at Colorado State University—Pueblo on June 13. With 35 years of experience, Ionita put his extensive knowledge and mechanic skills to the test, and successfully competed against 24 other bus technicians from across Colorado. “It was all about the thrill of seeing how I would do,” he said.

The State Road-e-o, organized by the Colorado State Pupil Transportation Association, provides an opportunity for school district transportation employees to compete in four hands-on activities to problem-solve issues that have been planted in school buses. Participants might be looking for missing bolts, loose seats or problems under the hood. Contestants also test their electrical skills. Ionita was tasked to create a diagram to show how lights and wiring work, and then had to demonstrate his concept could work. The competition also included a written test with 50 questions and just 20 minutes to complete it.

Ionita finished at the top in two of the four activities, along with taking first place overall. His prize package included a plaque, new floor jack and $250 cash prize. “It was a nice boost to the ego. I never realized how involved it would be.”

Participants had time to connect with suppliers, school transportation experts and fellow mechanics from across the state to stay up-to-date with changing technologies and regulations within the school bus industry. “After the contest, I took classes the rest of the week to learn about diesel emission systems, plans for electric buses and so much more,” shared Ionita.

The top technician has served the D49 transportation team for a year and a half, coming from the corporate sector as a Ford mechanic. Along with two other technicians, Ionita helps manage 170 buses and district vehicles. Their primary duties include maintaining buses, facilitating annual inspections, and ensuring that every bus can start their route ready for passengers.

“It’s a lot different working in D49… it’s more relaxed with a family atmosphere,” said Ionita. “Our focus here is on safety. We slow down to make sure we find every issue.”

Adrian Ionita ensures a bus is ready for passengers.

As the state champion, Ionita is hoping for the opportunity to compete at the national level. Plans are in the works for the National Association for Pupil Transportation to host a possible America’s Best Technician Training & Skills Challenge in 2022.

In the meantime, Director of Transportation Jack Pietraallo knows awards like this one drive home that D49 is a great place to work. “We’ve got bragging rights now,” he shared. “The best school bus technician in the state works for District 49.”

Amy Matisek