Davis questions need for so many buses
Over $90,000 budgeted for backup vehicles
St. Mary’s school board member Jim Davis appeared to be adamant Wednesday that the county doesn’t need to contract as many as 64 spare buses to be used in case of emergency or for field trips. About $90,510 of the $15 million budgeted for transportation is distributed as stipends and inspection fees for the backup buses.
Three buses have been pulled by their contractors and replaced with two since August, when the 65 buses were approved for use by the school board, Jeff Thomp- son, public schools’ director of transportation, said at Wednesday’s school board meeting.
“Up to 30 buses at a time in a single day can cover field trips,” Thompson said, adding that up to 210 buses are on the road during the school day.
Davis said “there is no question about needing additional buses,” but questioned if there needed to be more than 60 backup buses.
He said the cost of having that many spare buses would be passed on from the contractors to the school system, and asked Thompson if there was data in- dicating the need for that many spare buses.
Thompson said he didn’t have that information on hand, but could provide it to the board member. “In the past, we’ve had days where we’ve had to use a large number of our spare buses,” he said.
With 40 contractors working with the school system, “many of them would like to have their own spare bus, because otherwise they have to got to another contractor,” he said.
Davis asked Thompson if there “would be any way they could cross-pollinate” and share buses instead.
Thompson said there are times when contractors share buses, but it comes with additional fees to be paid by the driver.
“Each of them are running their own independent business,” he said.
Of the now 64 buses, the school board budgets $3,000 a year for 25 regular buses and three buses with wheelchair lifts, as well as another $105 each for inspection fees, Thompson said.
The other 31 regular and five “lift” buses get $105 for inspection fees and “they get no more dollars throughout the year,” he said. “All other cost, all other
responsibility is [on] the bus driver.”
Because the transportation services are contracted out and the school system doesn’t own the buses, the maintenance cost is “all on the driver, so if they choose to have one bus or 10 buses, the
expense is no different. We’re not really paying any extra” for the spares, Thompson said.
“But you are. There is a cost … maybe not your cost, but [the driver’s] going to put that in his negotiated price,” Davis said.
Board chairman Karin Bailey said contractors “don’t just give us a flat amount. The costs associ-
ated are vetted out during the negotiations.”
She said at this time of year, as well in the spring, teachers may want to take their students on field trips but are “unable to secure a bus” and give their students the educational experience.
Offering field trips “gets some kids out of the county for the first and only time in their lives,”
Cathy Allen, board member said.
“If we didn’t have to approve this, contractors would be within their rights to have spare buses,” she said.
Davis said he takes is-
sue with the $15 million price tag for transportation costs, and said “if we had 30 [spare] buses instead of 65, maybe that $15 million would be a lot less.”
Bailey asked Thomp- son if another spare bus would be brought back to bring the spare vehicle pool up to 65.
Thompson said school staff “didn’t ask them to bring in [another] spare.”