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.

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