Dave Frenzia – Student Transportation of America
Taking a different path to becoming an attorney landed Dave Frenzia back on a school bus.
Well, maybe not on a school bus itself, but close enough. Frenzia is the senior vice president of human resources and legal affairs for Student Transportation of America, a company that transports 1.3 million students in the U.S. and Canada.
He joined STA after practicing labor and employment law for private firms for more than a decade. Before that—and while earning his J.D. from St. Louis University School of Law in 2007—Frenzia was a police officer in St. Charles, Missouri, and also investigated deaths for the medical examiner’s office in St. Louis.
Frenzia says those disparate experiences of working with a wide variety of people who were sometimes in distress or crisis enable him to successfully manage the legal details for the transportation company. It’s especially true as STA works through the COVID-19 pandemic and a chronic labor shortage.
“I’ve taken a different path to get where I am now, but it’s an advantage because the best type of guidance someone can provide means meeting people on their level,” Frenzia says. “I’m lucky to work with and for these people, but my job is really a support role.”
Rooted in bus routes
Headquartered in Wall Township, New Jersey, STA was founded in 1997 and currently operates more than 20,000 vehicles for school districts across North America. Its Canadian operations expanded greatly in June 2022 when the company acquired Pacific Western Transportation— adding more than 5,000 employees and 4,100 vehicles to STA.
The company has more than 275 depots and offices for its services in 24 U.S. states and all the Canadian provinces. STA provides transportation services for school districts with as few as eight or 10 bus routes or as many as 800.
STA typically contracts with school districts to manage transportation services including getting students to and from school as well as athletic events and field trips. Contracts typically last three years and Frenzia says the company works with the local drivers as much as possible, making them STA employees instead of school district employees. The company also provides transportation management and maintenance services and staff.
In his role, Frenzia collaborates with STA’s operations team to bid on requests for proposals to manage their school districts’ services. The operations team can advise him on how a district’s existing bus routes are laid out as he considers how to structure a proposal and contract if the bid is accepted.
“Everything is based off a 180-day school year cycle, so we look at costs and labor needed to support that,” Frenzia says.
COVID causes changes
Structuring a contract has become more challenging because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Frenzia adds. When schools closed throughout North America in spring 2020, STA was among the transportation contractors who endured an enormous drop in revenue. Though schools have reopened, the emergence of virtual learning can mean snow days are no longer made up on-campus—and contractors don’t get paid for days when buses aren’t in service.
So, Frenzia has been changing contract terms to include more force majeure clauses covering a loss of revenue for unforeseen events—like a pandemic. Contracts he drafts and negotiates also need to cover areas such as payment if bus routes are consolidated due to labor shortages industry-wide.
“It’s about going to the right people and getting to the right answers, because I’m a part of the team as a whole,” Frenzia says. “I’ve been able to develop relationships and trust across the organization, which have been instrumental in getting the best outcomes for STA in the long run.”
Frenzia is also responsible for managing employee and labor issues for a workforce that’s about 20 percent unionized. As part of his HR role, he manages the collective bargaining agreements with union staff and investigates workplace complaints and possible discipline. He says STA looks to attract and retain local drivers by offering strong wages and benefits.
“We offer a great degree of flexibility,” Frenzia says. “STA drivers have the middle of the day and weekends free, but that comes with the fact that it isn’t a 40-hour week.”
Consistent laws, unique cases
Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Frenzia earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Missouri State University in 1996. After graduating, he joined the St. Charles police department in 1997 and served on patrol from 2000 to 2008.
While on the police force, Frenzia was a medicolegal death investigator who investigated deaths caused by homicides, suicides, accidents, natural causes, and deaths of unknown manner or cause.
Frenzia enjoyed serving on the St. Charles police force but says opportunities for growth and advancement were limited. He also enjoyed his work with the medical examiner’s office but knew becoming a medical examiner could take 10 years of school.
After a former St. Louis police officer who had become a prosecuting attorney told Frenzia that a law degree offered the opportunity to pursue a variety of new careers, Frenzia enrolled in law school.
After earning his J.D., Frenzia spent almost a dozen years practicing labor and employment law with firms in the St. Louis area. What he didn’t expect was how much he enjoyed learning labor and employment law.
“It’s an interesting area because every situation is different no matter how alike they may be,” Frenzia says. “Labor and employment cases are driven by the facts. While there are changes in the law, every case is unique because the facts are always different.”
Moving in-house after working in private practice also required Frenzia to move from his native Missouri to northern New Jersey, but it’s a change he’s glad he made.
“STA is a family-oriented company that began as a small entity,” Frenzia says. “We need to be part of the community. I enjoy my in-house role because I’m able to have a deeper involvement advising on legal issues and I’m able to see the human and operational impacts.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Spring II 2023 Edition here.
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