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5:36 AM Wed, Dec. 19th

Chino Valley schools will lease two buses

CHINO VALLEY – Chino Valley School District students will have two new buses to ride, as of the next school year.

After a long debate, the school board members decided this past Monday to lease two new buses over five years – a full-size bus for students with special needs and a rear-engine routing bus without air conditioning.

Jeff Lambert, the transportation director, presented to the board two options. With the full-size route bus the board had discretion to choose leasing a rear-engine vehicle without air conditioning for a price of $86,400 or an air-conditioned bus costing $101,035. The district could use the air-conditioned bus not just for routes, but also on field trips, Lambert said.

His special needs bus proposal gave the board the option to lease a mini special needs bus with a price tag of $60,995 or a $90,140 Blue Bird transit-style bus. The more expensive bus is 32 feet long with a durability and safety advantage, fits more students, and has a rear suspension for wheelchair students on back roads, Lambert's proposal states. The district can use this bus for field trips when it it isn't carrying special needs students, Lambert said.

"I'm recommending what I need to go by," he said. "Air conditioning is very expensive on the buses."

According to Lambert, the district has 20 buses at this point and four vans.

"All buses are in a good shape," he said.

However, the bus maintenance costs increase after 10 years of riding them, he said.

James Holt, the board vice president, asked whether there are buses that they have to take out of fleet.

"We have a tendency to work them out until they are not worth much," Lambert said. "Cost per mile starts to double in order to maintain and repair those buses."

Lambert said that the two field trip buses they have are not just for athletic trips but also for academic use, and that he always takes that into consideration when he does his planning.

"As we phase out vans, our biggest problem is air conditioning," he said.

The board was debating whether air conditioning on the new route bus is absolutely necessary considering the budget cuts in all areas.

Del Rio Elementary Principal Kent Evans said that his school has reduced field trips significantly because of the previous cuts in the transportation budget.

"We are doing field trips with tax credit money," he said.

Technology Service Director Melinda Adams said that having air conditioning in this state is necessary.

"I wouldn't want my vehicle without air conditioning in the state of Arizona," she said.

Robert Browning, a board member, stressed that the district needs buses with air conditioning for field trips, but that he is less interested in field trips than in the capacity and durability of buses. He made a motion to lease a routing bus without air conditioning and a bigger special needs bus.

Board member Cheryl Main agreed.

"Routing is more important than field trips," she said, adding that she is aware that they have previously cut the transportation budget. Considering how the budget is tight now, they will trim it again if they have to, she said.

Superintendent Linda Nelson said, "Bob's motion is the best we are going to do."

The board unanimously approved Browning's motion.

After the meeting, Lambert said he was happy with the board decision: "The school board has always been supportive."

Lambert also updated the board members on a pilot transportation reimbursement program, which the board approved last month. The program allows the district to reimburse for mileage those parents who drive their children from distant areas to designated bus stops. The district gets a reimbursement from the state as well.

"I'm pleased with the way it is going," Lambert said. "There is no sign of anyone abusing it. Parents are very thankful. It will ease the burden on families that have kids with special needs. It is really great PR for the school."

Contact Mirsada Buric-Adam at mburicadam@prescottaz.com