Students will be riding new buses

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Some Marshall County students will be riding on new school buses soon after the 2011-2012 school year starts in August.

School Board Transportation Committee members Randy Perryman and Curt Denton met with Schools Director Roy Dukes and Transportation Supervisor Michael Frey last week to get an update on the process of acquiring the new buses.

Frey reported that buses from the Thomas and Bluebird companies had been brought to the county recently for transportation department employees to look at and drive.

"Bluebird has made a lot of cost-cutting efforts," Frey reported. He added that the Thomas buses were "much improved."

Steps toward buying new buses are taken with the blessing of several county commissioners. Members of the commission's education committee showed their support for the purchase when they met in February.

Their discussion was more on the source of the money as opposed to the need.

The committeemen were asked about making the purchase before or after the next fiscal year starts. The 2010-11 fiscal year ends June 30, but like Congress, there have been continuing resolutions for the county budget.

"It would look better to put them in next year's budget," Commissioner Mickey King said. "We've been setting aside [money] for new buses."

A few years ago a separate, dedicated funding stream was created so the school board could buy buses. In a bold and almost unheard of move, commissioners shifted a portion of property taxes from other departments to create a bus purchase fund.

Acknowledging the money can't be spent on anything else, Commissioner Rocky Bowden, a retired vice principal at Forrest High School and a staunch supporter of education funding, said, "Allow Mr. Dukes to order the buses to get delivery by late July or early in August."

Now, the next step is for the school board to approve advertising the invitation to bid on supplying four new buses. By the time that's done, the winning is bidder chosen, and the buses are ordered, it's unlikely they'll be delivered before mid-August.

There are strict state laws governing the maximum age and mileage for school buses, but fortunately Marshall County has enough buses inside the limits to at least start the new school year. Once the old buses are retired, Frey said, he probably can sell them online.

Perryman and Denton looked at the list of specifications for new buses that Frey drafted, made comments, and asked questions. The new buses will come with cameras, but Frey said his department will install them, resulting in a cost saving. All but seven buses in the current fleet have cameras now.

"The cameras are a big plus," Dukes said. "The number of problems on the buses is down. With everything recorded, if there is a problem, you can always show a parent what happened."

Frey also reported that the special education van that the school board approved "months and months ago" has been ordered, and so have the four regular vans that the school board agreed on.

Senior staff writer Clint Confehr contributed to this story.