Yuma to get new school buses in VW deal
Tab for Ariz.’s 152 vehicles paid by state’s $59M share of settlement
PHOENIX -- More than four dozen Arizona school districts are getting new school buses at no cost to taxpayers.
The tab for the 152 new buses is coming from the state’s $59 million share of a nationwide settlement with Volkswagen over the sale of its so-called “cleandiesel’’ vehicles. Gov. Doug Ducey had ultimate authority on how to divide the cash, within certain courtapproved guidelines.
More districts may benefit in the future. The governor’s office said it is still reviewing the applications from another 63 districts to see if they qualify.
What’s getting the state all this cash is a decision by Volkswagen in 2016 to settle a lawsuit about the marketing of vehicles under the VW, Audi and Porsche labels as having lower pollution.
It turned out that really wasn’t the case.
Instead, VW engineers had installed a “defeat device,’’ programmed to go into a low-emission mode during testing but then spew out pollutants at much higher -- and illegal -- levels when actually on the road to improve performance.
VW eventually pleaded guilty to three felonies, including defrauding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The company agreed to $4.3 billion in penalties and another $4.9 billion to address pollution from the supposedly lowemission diesel vehicles.
Arizona’s $57 million share was not unrestricted. Instead, it had to be spent on projects to reduce emissions of oxides of nitrogen, the very pollutants the VW vehicles were spitting out
above permissible levels.
That’s where the plan for new school buses comes in.
State officials figure that for each aging school bus replaced, those with at least 100,000 miles, emissions of nitrogen oxides will be reduced by nearly 1.4 tons over that vehicle’s anticipated 12year life.
And Dawn Wallace, the governor’s education adviser, said 80 percent of the money awarded is going to school districts in areas that already are in danger of violating cleanair standards.
Yuma Union High School District officials announced Thursday they were going to get nine new buses out of the settlement.
“We were awarded the maximum amount allowed,” YUHSD and Yuma Elementary School District 1 Transportation Director Ron Schepers said. “Within the next two years we anticipate having these brand new buses built, delivered and added to our fleet.”
District 1 was awarded seven buses, and both districts will utilize the Maricopa Clean County Grant to add several more new buses, the statement also said.
Yuma Elementary Superintendent Jamie Sheldahl said district staff were “very pleased” about the donation from the VW settlement. “With capital budgets being cut by 85 percent over the last 10 years or so, so like a lot of districts we’ve struggled to put new buses on the road.”
The new vehicles will reduce maintenance costs as well as air pollution, he said.
Gadsden Elementary School District has been awarded four new buses out of the settlement. Superintendent Ray Aguilera said under the terms of the grant, the district will have to pay for one bus, and the state will donate the other three.
That first bus is expected to run more than $100,000, so the overall savings to the district will be huge, he said. “We’d like to thank everybody for their patience as we deal with the district’s transportation needs,” he said.
He said its capital funding from the state used to be at $2 million annually, before being slashed to $300,000 for several years. For the current school year, it’s gone back up to $800,000.
“We will get back to that $2 million,” he said.
The Crane Elementary School District will be receiving three buses from the settlement, according to the governor’s office.