Talkin’ transportation: Schools seeking $1.5M for new buses

Voters will be asked to approve two proposals – a $28.28 million bond and a 5-year, 0.75-mill sinking fund – on the November ballot, both of which would be used to fund a variety of capital improvement projects throughout the Oxford school district.

Should the proposals be approved, officials are looking to invest a total of $30.4 million into transportation, building systems, site improvements, roofing, technology infrastructure, security cameras/access and playgrounds throughout the district.

For the next seven weeks, The Oxford Leader will take an in-depth look at the projects which have been proposed within each of these categories by district officials.

In this issue, The Oxford Leader will explore the district’s proposed transportation updates.

Officials are hoping to spend $1.5 million over time on new buses.

In a recent interview with this reporter, Transportation Supervisor Ann Weeden discussed the current state of the district’s buses.

“Although everything is operating and functional, and everything has passed Michigan state’s latest inspections, they all are getting a little old,” Weeden said. “They are very high in miles and much of the fleet needs to be replaced. We’re looking at trying to replace around 42 over time.”

Weeden noted many of the district’s buses are rusting due to age and frequent travel on dirt roads.

The district’s oldest buses are 2001 models, while the newest are from 2007, according to Weeden. This excludes the district’s six minibuses, which were recently replaced.

Among the district’s oldest buses are a 2001 orthopedic bus, which includes a wheelchair lift, that had nearly 212,000 miles at the start of this school year and a 2001 conventional bus with more than 200,000 miles.

Although the buses are regularly maintained, Weeden said the older models sometimes hesitate during the cold Michigan winters.

“We’ve had issues over the years, when we’ve gotten those very cold winter days, with buses operating,” she said.

Weeden believes the replacement of those buses would likely increase the “overall dependability” of the fleet.

“The buses would be able to start a little easier during the colder months,” Weeden said.

Officials hope the purchase of new buses will enhance student safety as they travel to and from school each day.

“There have been some changes to the interior of buses in terms of seat heights,” Weeden explained. “Our older buses, they don’t have the seatbacks that are higher, like the newer models, which provide more safety protection and allow for more compartmentalization for students. They’ve made changes over the years with various things including the turning radius, which helps (drivers) to be able to maneuver those larger vehicles. Plus, newer models have better mirrors.”

With the price of a new bus currently running around $100,000 each, Superintendent Tim Throne estimates the district could purchase a total of 15 new buses over the next few years if the proposed bond is approved.

Throne added that, should the district’s sinking fund proposal also be approved, officials could potentially purchase even more.

Although Michigan school districts cannot currently use sinking fund revenue to pay for the purchase of new buses directly, Throne explained it would allow officials to use sinking fund revenue to cover some purchases normally bought through the district’s general fund budget, thereby freeing up some of the district’s operational funds to be put toward the purchase of new buses.

Under current law, sinking fund revenue may be used for security improvements, to acquire or upgrade technology, for the purchase of land for school buildings, and for the repair of those buildings and grounds.

“If we can pass a sinking fund to make up the difference between the district’s current needs and what the proposed bond would allow us to purchase, then that would allow us to use the sinking funds to cover some of the things we spend our operational dollars on today,” Throne explained. “Because we would have the bond and sinking fund in place to take care of some of those issues, it would free up that operational money for the district to spend on additional buses.”

While the district has used operational funds in recent years to replace buses with used vehicles, it has not been enough to keep the fleet of around 50 buses up-to-date, according to Throne.

If officials are able to replace some of the district’s oldest buses over the next few years, he added, it would also set the district ahead in its current efforts to create a bus replacement schedule, which would prevent high bus replacement costs for taxpayers in the future.

“The ultimate goal is to get on a cycle where every year, we’re purchasing a certain number of new buses, so that we’re constantly refreshing our fleet and rolling that over and we don’t find ourselves in a position where the entire fleet needs to be replaced and (the district is) looking for even bigger amounts of money,” Throne said.

 

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