Saturday, December 14, 2019

Officer Commissioning Speech - University of Missouri

In September 2019, my wife and I visited the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri where I received my undergraduate degree in 1983. While there, I stopped by Crowder Hall where the Navy ROTC program is administered. During the visit, I met the Marine Officer Instructor and his assistant and after a while, he asked if I would be willing to return to the University in December as the guest speaker for the December Navy and Marine Corps officer commissioning ceremony. I told him that I'd be honored to. This is the speech I delivered during the commissioning ceremony at the Memorial Union.


by Major Robert Doss, USMC (Retired)
Saturday, December 14, 2019


Again, I want to thank Captain Dry for the introduction, and I want to thank Captain LaLonde for inviting me to be here today. I also want to thank all of the family members and friends of our new officers here today for being here and sharing this important day.

I also want to recognize the staff members of the Mizzou NROTC unit – military and civilian – whove poured their knowledge and energy into ensuring our new officers are ready for this day and the days that lay ahead. You will soon see that their labor has put you in a great position to meet the rigors of service to your country.

Let me also thank the remarkable men and women who we’re here to honor today for joining a long line of citizens who’ve raised their right hand and have sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Ladies and gentlemen, these men and women are here today, young and full of life, vigor, and opportunity ahead of them, and today they’ll take an oath to defend this nation against all enemies while not knowing exactly what their country will ask of them. They’ve decided to serve in a very complex and dynamic world as part of the most powerful military force the world has ever known. Theyll soon be part of the reason it’s that way.  

Let that sink in for a moment. These young officers aren’t merely serving in the military, they haven’t merely joined the military; they will each soon be part of the reason the United States military is the most potent military force on earth, a force that keeps our Nation – and many other nations around the world – safe and free of tyranny.

Now let me address our new officers. When you report for your next assignment, you’ll be thrust into an environment where sailors and Marines who are younger and less experienced than you and sailors and Marines who are much older and more experienced than you need your leadership.

With that in mind, let me leave you with three points – certainly not the only important points on the subject – about what will be your most important responsibility as a commissioned officer, whether in war or at peace: leading our sailors and Marines.

FIRST, recognize that the entirety of your work as a commissioned officer exists for one purposepreparing yourself and those whom you lead for war.

As you consider that preparation, also recognize that war is inherently fluid and uncertain and that because of that, the Naval service requires competent leaders at all levels who will exercise the boldness and initiative necessary to accomplish the mission under those rapidly changing conditions.

At any moment, a 19-year old seaman might need to rise to the occasion with little or no guidance during a shipboard catastrophe as we saw a few years ago aboard the USS Cole where many senior enlisted leaders were incapacitated in a terrorist attack, or a young lance corporal might need to act decisively during an ambush in the streets of some village far from here as we’ve seen many times in recent years.

It’s vital, then, that you ensure that as you supervise your sailors and Marines, you don’t let them become accustomed to being over-supervised because micromanagement absolutely destroys the boldness, initiative, and creativity that are essential to battlefield decision-making.

Also, it’s important that you develop the confidence to force decision-making and idea formulation down to the lowest practical level, and not reserve it all at the top. Your goal should be to condition your subordinate leaders to thrive on acting and leading spontaneously.

SECOND, and in conjunction with the point we just discussed, remember that your credibility and success as a leader will lean heavily on your professional competence and the competence and skill of those whom you lead. You have to know what you’re doing – and know what you’re doing at an extraordinarily high level – and the people you lead have to as well.

As part of that, it’s important to set an example of teachability by being willing to listen and learn yourself, especially when it comes to your petty officers, NCOs, chief petty officers, and staff NCOs.  Remember, however, that as you’re being teachable, when it’s time to make a decision, make it confidently and decisively.

AND FINALLY, as you know, every great organization relies on guiding principles, vision, and values for their success. The underlying principles that shape our ethos – qualities like courage, integrity, selflessness, reliability, endurance, fairness and equity, faithfulness, and again, boldness and initiative – are indispensable when great challenges rise up to test us. Those principles and that ethos must abide in every person in the unit from the most senior officer to the most junior enlisted man or woman.

You might remember that on October 23, 1983, a terrorist in a bomb-laden truck destroyed the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 241 Marines. It was the worst one-day loss of Marines since World War II.

Some weeks later, the Marine Corps Commandant at the time, General P. X. Kelley, told of visiting a severely wounded young Marine in a military hospital who he described as having “more tubes going in and out of his body” than hed ever seen in a human being. The young man was in bad condition, probably fighting for his life.

General Kelley described the visit this way. He said, “He couldn’t see very well. He reached up and grabbed my four stars, just to make sure I was who I said I was. He held my hand with a firm grip. He was making signals, and we realized that he wanted to tell me something. We put a pad of paper in his hand – and he wrote two words, Semper Fi, short for Semper Fidelis, the Marine Corps motto, and it means “always faithful.”

So, in that moment, as that young Marine fought for his life, he embraced what his service and sacrifice were all about: being unswervingly faithful to his country and his commitment, even when things were at their worst. With the odds so heavily stacked against him, he returned to his foundation, his principles, his ethos.

Recognize that we can’t turn that ethos on and off. It’s not a thing we have only on duty. It’s a part of who we are and it shapes our professional and cultural core. Our principles and ethos can’t be merely event-driven; they have to be systemic – they have to be with us all the time.

We wake up with them in the morning and we go to bed with them at night. Something suddenly happens in the middle of the night that draws us into action, there they are. Something happens in the middle of the night and the next thing you know you’re in the hospital holding the hand of someone who claims to be the Commandant of the Marine Corps, there they are.

Why? Because we don’t succeed as leaders in combat without those principles and that ethos, and neither do our sailors and Marines.

Our ethos is what inspires and enables us to do the right thing at the right time for the right reasons, all the time. It’s what triggers two things that leaders MUST have in order to earn their rank and be worthy of respect: trust and confidence.

General George Washington used the words, “Reposing special Trust and Confidence in the Integrity, Diligence, and Good Conduct” in the first military officer commissions during the Revolutionary War. Your commission contains nearly identical wording: “Reposing special Trust and Confidence in the Patriotism, Valor, Fidelity and Abilities…”

I want to ask you new officers to take the time in the next day or two to study and take to heart the words thatre written on your commission: “Reposing special trust and confidence…” As you celebrate and enjoy this day, reflect on the fact that the words “trust” and “confidence” in your commission don’t refer to the past, they’re words that refer to the future.

As we all acknowledge the accomplishments that place you here at this ceremony, we also realize that this moment arrives with a tremendous and important expectation that marks the beginning of your living up to the special trust and confidence that the President and the Congress – and your sailors and Marines – have in you.

Your challenge is to become the leader that our sailors and Marines need and deserve. If you do that, you’ll realize that although your experiences as a Naval officer won’t always be perfect and pleasant, you’ll forever cherish the memories of your service, the kinship that you develop, and the difference that you’ve made in the world and in the lives of others. More than the medals and promotions that you’ll earn along the way, the memories, the kinship, and the difference that youll make as a leader will be your most enduring and important reward.

So as you go about earning the special trust and confidence that will yield that reward, remember: Train and empower your subordinate leaders at all levels. Make yourself and your unit professionally competent and knowledgeable. Set an example of “teachability and decisiveness.  Be principled and reinforce our underlying ethos in everything that you do. And do the right thing at the right time for the right reasons, all the time, especially when it’s difficult or inconvenient to do that.

Congratulations and best wishes to you, and thank you again for serving our great country. And thank you all very much for having me here today.

Sunday, December 8, 2019


I attended a ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park in Pensacola yesterday where the Pensacola Chapter of the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association laid an engraved walkway brick paver in memory of my father-in-law, Si Kittler, and several other deceased alumni. Before the event, one of Si's friends told my wife - Si's daughter - and me a story about him. Although I already knew some of the story from the medal citations of those who were involved, I didn't know some of the back stories and just how the individual stories intersected.

Si's friend began by telling us the story of Marine infantry Sergeant Frank Reasoner. Sergeant Reasoner attended the Naval Academy Preparatory School with Si's friend in 1957, but he couldn't get into the Naval Academy as a midshipman so he walked up to Capitol Hill to the office of Senator Henry Dvorshak of Idaho and told him that he needed an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy. The Senator must have been impressed with Sergeant Reasoner because he awarded him the appointment he wanted.

After Reasoner graduated and was commissioned as a Marine Second Lieutenant in 1962, he returned to the infantry for service as a reconnaissance officer. By July 1965, Reasoner was a First Lieutenant in command of A Company, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion in Vietnam.

Meanwhile, Major Si Kittler, a 1953 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, was flying UH-34D helicopters out of Danang, South Vietnam as a member of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 (HMM-365). His squadron had been in Vietnam since October 1964, not long after the squadron was formed.

Then on July 12, 1965, First Lieutenant Reasoner led a recon patrol deep in Viet Cong territory when the patrol was suddenly engaged by machineguns and other automatic weapons from an estimated 50 to 100 enemy soldiers. The patrol's point man, Corporal B. C. Collins immediately returned fire, killing three enemy soldiers before withdrawing to the advance party where Lieutenant Reasoner and three other Marines were.

Lieutenant Reasoner, Corporal Collins, and the other three Marines were practically isolated from the main body of the patrol due to the intensity of automatic weapons fire which prevented the main body from moving forward.  Lieutenant Reasoner repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire and provided covering fire for his team while he attempted to rescue a wounded Marine. As casualties mounted, Lieutenant Reasoner attended to his radio operator who was among the wounded. Then, when the radio operator attempted to move to a covered position, he was hit a second time so Lieutenant Reasoner ran to his aid. However, as Lieutenant Reasoner maneuvered toward him, Reasoner was struck and killed by machinegun fire.

With his commander dead, Corporal Collins took charge of the situation and silenced the enemy machinegun with an M79 grenade launcher while exposing himself to heavy fire. He bandaged one wounded Marine then laid down covering fire so the wounded Marine could crawl out of the range of enemy fire. Then, Collins carried the remaining wounded Marine to cover before personally carrying Lieutenant Reasoner's body 100 yards back to the main body, again exposing himself to enemy fire from the flanks.

When the call came in to HMM-365 that night that Lieutenant Reasoner's patrol had been ambushed, was surrounded, and needed an emergency medical evacuation and extraction, Major Kittler flew his helicopter out to get them. "The landing zone, surrounded by Viet Cong, was under a crossfire from three automatic weapons, which made it virtually untenable. In spite of heavy enemy ground fire, unknown landing zone conditions and a lack of visibility due to darkness, (he) ... landed and assisted in the evacuation of the patrol," saving eighteen lives in the process. In addition to the eighteen members of the patrol, he successfully evacuated Lieutenant Reasoner's body as well.

For their actions that day, First Lieutenant Reasoner was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously, Corporal Collins was awarded the Navy Cross Medal, our nation's second highest award for valor, and my father-in-law was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross Medal for valor.

Thirteen years after his patrol was ambushed in Vietnam, Staff Sergeant B. C. Collins reported to G Company, 8th Marine Regiment (2/8) at Camp Geiger, North Carolina to be my platoon sergeant (which is a series of stories in itself). Then, five years after I served with Staff Sergeant Collins, I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant at the University of Missouri where Colonel Si Kittler was the Professor of Naval Science. After I was commissioned, I was transferred to The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia where I attended classes in Reasoner Hall named in Lieutenant Reasoner's honor, and two years later - almost exactly 20 years after the ambush of Reasoner's patrol - I was a helicopter pilot in HMM-365, the same squadron that Si Kittler served with in Vietnam.

Each man's story is extraordinary, made even more so by the fact that they are woven together forever in history. It's an honor to have served with and known two of these three great Marines.

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Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Fable of the Ill-Informed Walrus

I’ve used this several times over the years to illustrate the importance of keeping the boss informed and having the courage to act on the fact that what the boss wants to hear isn’t necessarily what he or she needs to hear.


The Fable of the Ill-Informed Walrus
Author Unknown

“How’s it going down there?” barked the Big Walrus from his high rock. He waited for good news. Down below the smaller walruses conferred hastily among themselves. Things weren’t going well, but no one wanted to risk his ferocious bark. For several weeks the water level in the nearby Arctic Bay had been falling and it had become necessary to travel much farther to catch the dwindling supply of herring. Someone had to tell the Big Walrus; he would know what to do. But who? And how?
Basil, the second-ranking walrus, well remembered how the Big Walrus had ranted and raved the last time the herd caught less than its quota of herring, and he had no desire to go through that experience again. (He had even been tempted to fudge the figures or breach the beach code to avoid the awful fallout.)

Finally Basil spoke up. “Things are going pretty well, Chief,” he said. “As a matter of fact, the beach seems to be getting larger.” The Big Walrus grunted. “Fine, fine,” he said. “That will give us more elbow room.”
The next day brought more trouble with a new herd arriving. No one wanted to tell the Big Walrus about it, but only he would know what to do in the face of this new competition.
Reluctantly, Basil approached the Big Walrus and after some small talk he said… “Oh by the way, Chief, a new herd of walruses seems to have moved into our territory.”  The Old Man’s eyes snapped open wider and he filled his great lungs in preparation for an mighty bellow. But Basil added quickly, “Of course, we don’t anticipate any trouble. They don’t look like herring eaters to me.” Crisis averted.
Things didn’t get any better in the weeks that followed as more and more of the herd left to join the new herd. One day, peering down from the large rock, the Big Walrus noticed that a large part of his herd seemed to be missing. Summoning Basil, he grunted peevishly, “What’s going on Basil? Where is everyone?”
Poor Basil didn’t know how to explain this, but he explained it away as the herd getting rid of some of the “deadwood.”
“Run a tight ship I always say," the Big Walrus grunted. “Glad to hear that everything’s going so well.”
Before long, everyone except Basil had left. Terrified but determined, he flopped up on to the large rock. “Chief,” he said, “I have bad news. Everyone has left you.”
The Big Walrus was so astonished he couldn’t even work up a good bellow. “Left me?” he cried. “All of them? How could this happen? And just when everything was going so well!”

Thursday, February 28, 2019

A Long Flight Home

My father-in-law, Simon J. Kittler is nearly 89 years old. When I look at him today, I’m reminded that all around us, we see old people whose days of impassioned vigor have been replaced by a gentler pace and whose youthful boldness and audacity have been replaced by a wariness of even the next step they take out of concern that they might fall. When we look at them and take stock of their years, it’s difficult to imagine that among them are great heroes who gave so much of themselves and were once willing to sacrifice everything.

My father-in-law is one of those people.

He grew up in a troubled household in Michigan, but was able to secure a Congressional appointment to the United States Naval Academy in 1949 as a member of the Class of 1953. He was one of four brothers who received congressional appointments to the Naval Academy. After he was commissioned as a second lieutenant on June 5, 1953, he was able to fulfill a dream inspired by his childhood employer and mentor to lead a platoon of Marines in Korea. 

Once he returned to the United States in October of 1955, he entered flight training in Pensacola, Florida and upon completion of training in October of 1957, he earned his gold aviator wings.

His first assignments as an aviator were with VMA-211 then with VMA-225 as an A-4D Skyhawk pilot, stationed in Edenton and Cherry Point, North Carolina. While he was on a deployment in the Mediterranean on board the USS Essex (CVA-9) during her final carrier deployment, the crew of the Essex and the 17 pilots of VMA-225 collaborated on an unprecedented achievement that possibly remains unduplicated to this day. On January 23, 1960, VMA-225 qualified all 17 of its pilots as Centurions when every pilot in the squadron completed his 100th arrested carrier landing of the deployment on the Essex on that day.

Then, in July of 1963, he completed a stint as an instructor in the Air Support Division, training forward air controllers (FACs) at Coronado, California which he later said was a great help to him when he needed to call in fire support missions in Vietnam.

Then, in what would become a pivotal event in his career, he underwent helicopter transition training with HMM-362 in Santa Ana, California in preparation for service in the Vietnam War, known by many as “the helicopter war.” With his transition training complete, he was promoted to Major and joined the newly formed HMM-365 in August of 1964 to fly the UH-34D, which he later referred to as “one helluva war bird.”

Just a couple of weeks after his wife, Peggy, gave birth to a baby boy, his namesake Simon Scott, he deployed with his squadron to the Republic of Vietnam in October of 1964. As thousands of others have done since the early days of our Republic, he left his wife, new son, and two daughters, 6 year old Angela and 2 year old Christina, behind in California.

Once in Vietnam, he and his squadron went to work immediately, flying combat missions daily. Within a month of arriving in Vietnam, then-Major Kittler “volunteered to undertake a vital resupply and medical evacuation mission to an isolated Vietnamese outpost located in an area infested with insurgent communist Viet Cong forces. The flying conditions were exceptionally hazardous due to typhoon conditions in the general vicinity, a ceiling of less than three hundred feet and a steady rainfall which severely limited visibility. As leader of a two aircraft flight, (he) fearlessly led the way through intense enemy small arms fire to land at the obscured landing zone. After discharging his supplies and taking aboard several wounded Vietnamese soldiers, (he) again displayed calm courage and superior aeronautical skill as he led the flight through enemy fire and further deteriorating weather conditions to deliver his wounded passengers to a field hospital.”  For his heroism that day, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross Medal.

While Major Kittler was flying that mission and risking his life to save the lives of others, tragedy was settling onto his own home that same day half a world away where his newborn son, Simon Scott, passed away in his crib. Any sense of relief and satisfaction that he felt over having succeeded in that treacherous mission was quickly overwhelmed by the weight of profound loss and mourning as he boarded a plane to return to the United States to be with his family.

With his son buried and his family consoled, he returned to duty with his squadron in Vietnam where he resumed flying combat missions in support of U. S. Marines, the South Vietnamese Army, and U. S. Special Forces.  Then on July 12, 1965, he “participated in an emergency medical evacuation and troop withdrawal of an isolated patrol which had been ambushed and surrounded at night. The landing zone, surrounded by Viet Cong, was under a crossfire from three automatic weapons, which made it virtually untenable. In spite of heavy enemy ground fire, unknown landing zone conditions and lack of visibility due to darkness, (he) ... landed and assisted in the evacuation of the patrol,” saving eighteen lives in the process.  For his actions that day, he was awarded a second Distinguished Flying Cross Medal for heroism.

Then, Major Kittler again transitioned to a new aircraft in 1967, this time to the OV-10 Bronco as a member of VMO-5 before returning to Vietnam in May of 1968 as officer-in-charge (OIC) and pilot in a VMO-2 detachment. Within just a few hours of the squadron’s Broncos arriving in Vietnam from the Philippines, he became the first pilot to fly the OV-10 aircraft in combat. Operating out of Marble Mountain in Vietnam, he flew both the OV-10A and the UH-1E Huey on direct combat support missions for Marine forces.

When he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in October of 1968, he was transferred to the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) G-3 in DaNang to serve as assistant operations and assistant plans officer. While in that assignment, he continued to fly combat missions in the OV-10 and the TA-4 on “Steel Tiger” forward air controller (FAC) missions along the Ho Chi Minh Trail until 1969 when he returned to the United States.

Following his promotion to Colonel in July of 1975, he assumed command of the 31st Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU)/Task Group (TG) 79.5. He then served as commanding officer of the Marine Corps Air Reserve Training Detachment (MARTD) in El Toro, California from 1977 to 1980. Finally, Colonel Kittler took command of the Naval ROTC Unit and served as the Professor of Naval Science at the University of Missouri in 1980 before retiring from active duty in September of 1982 with 30 years of service.

During his distinguished Marine Corps career, Colonel Kittler saw service in the Korean War as a ground officer then participated in 15 major combat operations as an aviator in Vietnam. Among his many decorations and awards are the Legion of Merit for valor, two Distinguished Flying Crosses for valor, 22 Air Medals, the Meritorious Service Medal, two Combat Action Ribbons, and numerous unit citations and campaign and service medals.

After his retirement from the Marine Corps, Colonel Kittler went to work in program management at McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach, California, working on the T-45, A-4, A-3, and the KDC-10 aircraft.

Ultimately, he settled in Pensacola, Florida, returning to his aviation roots where he was able to watch his two grandsons grow, enjoy seeing them play baseball and excel in school, and witness them eventually becoming Marines like their father and grandfathers before them. All along, he inspired them through his love, example, and wisdom.

From his childhood and throughout his adult life, during the high points and the low, through critical moments of life and death, and in periods of peace and extraordinary trial, he has been buoyed by his Faith, his family, his country, and his unwavering loyalty and service to them all. Always a humble and composed warrior, he has embraced life with good cheer and selfless personal courage.

We don’t know how much longer we will have him with us here, but as he nears the end of his long flight home, we know that we will have him and his legacy forever in our hearts and minds.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Fixing Florida's Hazardous Walking Conditions Law

The author is the former Director of Transportation for the Escambia County (Florida) School District.  The Escambia County School District Transportation Department manages one of the largest student transportation operations in the United States, transporting some 24,000 students twice a day every school day.  The author is also the co-founder of the Escambia Pathways Coalition, a public-private body organized to identify and correct hazardous walking conditions in Escambia County.


One does not need not to look far to discover that the current hazardous walking conditions parameters described in the Florida education code (Section 1006.23) are not realistic or practical by any measure.  The statute language itself is a challenge to follow on the first few readings.  That makes a routine critical analysis of its implications very difficult.  It’s almost as though the statute was written to satisfy a need for a criteria - almost any criteria - but not necessarily establish a sensible standard by which real hazards to students would be identified and remedied.

Over the years, there have been several attempts to correct the statute in the state legislature.  However, improving the language in a meaningful way has proven difficult for two key reasons.

First, some school districts have opposed improvements to the hazardous walking conditions statute because a requirement to transport students around conditions that are more realistically defined than they currently are might also require districts to transport more students, purchase more school buses, and hire more school bus operators, all other factors remaining equal, possibly at a greater cost to districts.

Second, the legislature has been very reluctant to approve legislation that isn’t revenue neutral.  Past proposals that have improved the definition of “hazardous walking conditions” would have required the approval of additional revenue from the legislature, had they been approved.  That continues to be an obstacle to change unless there is a balancing of costs embedded within the proposal.

I have a proposal that improves the definition of hazardous walking conditions in a way that keeps students who walk to school safe from traffic while also overcoming those two limitations.  (To view and download the proposed statute, click HERE.)


The logic behind my proposal begins with what the statutes describe as a "reasonable walking distance" to and from school for school children.

By replacing the reference in statutes to 2 miles as a “reasonable walking distance” with the term “transportation service boundary,” we eliminate the sense that the State of Florida expects students to walk two miles to school.  Instead, we want to establish two miles from school as the distance at which state-funded student transportation service begins.  It also eliminates the need for the state to make a provision for elementary school students who seemingly would walk two miles to school if not for hazards between home and school that prevent them from doing so safely.

Students do not walk two miles to school and would not do it even if the hazards between home and school were eliminated.  They might walk one mile.  Therefore, the distance from school where hazards should be considered should be reduced from two miles to one mile, and that is the distance that I propose be established as the “reasonable walking distance.”

With the hazard range decreased from two miles to one mile, it also makes sense to ensure the hazardous walking conditions criteria itself is logical and keeps students safe.  Certainly, the true test of the practicality of the language is to consider whether conditions that don't qualify as “hazardous” under the statute are "safe."  The current language fails that test dramatically.

So, taking the same common sense approach to the hazardous walking conditions criteria, it’s important to recognize two important realities: 
  1. That students of all ages are endangered by hazardous walking conditions, and
  2. That the hazardous walking conditions criteria ought to be credible and it should consider the elements of safe infrastructure design.
Before touching on the highlights of our proposal, though, let’s look at how we can address the issue of school districts that have concerns regarding the possible need to add school bus routes, purchase additional school buses, and hire more school bus operators under improved hazardous walking conditions criteria.  The proposal includes a provision in Section 1006.21 that enables school districts to seek relief from the Department of Education if financial or logistical constraints or limitations prevent them from satisfying the requirements contained in the hazardous walking conditions statute.

Here are the highlights of my proposal:
  • The hazardous walking conditions criteria and associated state funding should apply to the transportation of students of all ages.
  • A safe and suitable walkway should not be 4 feet wide, it should be 5 feet wide as is required in the construction of sidewalks per the Florida DOT Green Book.
  • The statute should be clear that no part of a drainage ditch or any part of any other stormwater runoff facility or system, including side slopes, is a suitable walkway for students.
  • Railroad crossings, bridges, and overpasses that lack paved walkways are not suitable walkways for students.
  • Students should not be required to cross a roadway between intersections or outside of marked crosswalks in order to acquire a safe walkway parallel to the road.
  • The walking route that is utilized in calculating eligibility for transportation should be used in the application of the hazardous walking conditions criteria.
  • Qualifying traffic volume should reflect the fact that morning traffic near schools generally flows toward school in the morning and away from school in the afternoon.  Furthermore, the traffic volume measurement should be focused and specific to the period during which students would walk to or from school because 15 minutes on either side of that period would be irrelevant to the matter and would distort the true sense of the traffic volumes that students encounter.  The proposal also allows for traffic to be counted manually if existing traffic engineering records are not specific enough.
  • Qualifying traffic volume should be at a threshold that genuinely reflects a hazard to students.  
  • Whether a crossing site is controlled or uncontrolled, roads consisting of more than two lanes of traffic and have a posted speed limit of 35 mph or greater should be considered hazardous for students.
  • Any crossing site where it is likely that student pedestrians would encounter traffic turning from left turn lanes, lanes where a right turn on red is authorized, and free-flow right turn lanes should be considered hazardous for students.  The Florida Greenbook acknowledges the importance designing roadways, sidewalks, and crosswalks in a manner that eliminates conflict between motorists and pedestrians, and limiting the use of vehicle traffic flow facilities such as those included in the proposal.
Then, we need to make the process of identifying hazardous walkways less cumbersome and less difficult for school districts.  For instance, the statute requires a number of steps in the process, some of which are simply not necessary when using an objective criteria.  For instance, we should eliminate the requirement to include a law enforcement representative in the process of identifying and certifying a hazardous segment.

We also need to address the fact that the statute currently requires that hazardous segments be removed from the state funding list once the expected completion date passes, whether the work is complete or not.  School districts should not be left without a state funding contribution when other governmental entities fail to complete work as planned.  Since school districts don’t control public works construction schedules, the statute should allow the transportation of students around hazardous conditions to be claimed for a state funding contribution for as long as the hazardous condition exists and the district transports students around it.  Additionally, some hazards can’t and won’t be eliminated without a massive roadway overhaul.

Finally, my proposal requires districts to review and update declared hazardous segments periodically in accordance with Florida Department of Education procedures.  The requirement is intended no only to ensure that districts track the progress of hazard remediation, it also requires that FDOE articulate procedures for them to do so.  This would dampen the temptation by agencies to infer procedures informally from the statutes where none exist.

Revenue and Other Impact

So, the big question is whether the impact of the proposal on state revenue is neutral.  With the hazardous walking conditions eligibility zone reduced from 2 miles to 1 mile on one side of the ledger and the creation of a credible criteria and the addition of middle and high school students to the eligibility pool on the other side of the ledger, it appears to be neutral.

I anticipate that the cost associated with expanding the ages of students covered by Section 1006.23 and the improvements in the definition of the conditions that constitute hazards to student pedestrians is more than balanced by the reduction of the distance from school that hazardous walking conditions would be considered for student transportation.  Reducing the hazardous radius by half reduces the number of students affected by more than half.

I also anticipate that by improving the definition of the conditions that constitute hazards to student pedestrians, governmental entities that have jurisdiction over roadways and walkway segments will also apply a more practical and realistic standard when identifying and prioritizing work projects.  Although the Section 1006.23 criteria was never intended to create a “level of service” standard for governmental entities that are responsible for improving walking infrastructure, we have seen plenty of evidence where those entities have used the criteria to determine whether walking conditions should be improved.  Thus, one unintended consequence of the vastly understated hazardous walking conditions criteria is underdeveloped infrastructure planning based on that criteria.

I also anticipate that the combination of these proposals would put school districts on firmer ground when designing local student transportation parameters.  For instance, with the reorientation of “reasonable walking distance” parameters, school districts can point first to the distance from school where transportation service begins rather than whether hazardous conditions that exist 1-2 miles from school would warrant transportation service.  In providing a realistic and practical definition of “hazardous walking conditions,” school districts could actually rely on statute for guidance in that regard rather than create local criteria that can be fluid and contentious.

Finally, the option for school district superintendents and school boards to seek relief from the requirement to transport students around hazardous conditions reduces the likelihood that they will oppose an improvement to the statute on the basis of the availability of resources in order to comply.  That notwithstanding, I anticipate that the reduction of the distance from school relative to the hazardous walking conditions parameters from 2 miles to 1 mile will actually reduce school districts’ compulsory transportation footprint, not increase it.  Currently, more than half of Florida’s school districts claim no State funding for transporting students around hazardous walking conditions.

It has been difficult to find a solution that leaves the citizens of Florida with an improvement to the hazardous walking conditions criteria that is also generally revenue-neutral and doesn’t place an onerous burden on school districts that are unable to adapt to the improvements.  I believe this proposal has found a way to get it done.

  • To view and download the proposed statute, click HERE.
  • To view and download a video presentation that contains more details, illustrations, and background information, click HERE.