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Tue, Jan. 21

District facing bus challenges

A combination of reasons has Humboldt Unified School District (HUSD) Transportation Director Tom Rozum asking for more buses from the school board.

At the board meeting on Sept. 7, six used buses were on the agenda. The board approved looking into obtaining one, which will cost in the neighborhood of $85,000 new or $40,000 used.

In the past, Bluebird was the only vendor for the district, but a recent letter from an-other source changed that.

Why does the district need so many additional buses? Several reasons, said HUSD Superintendent Henry Schmitt, including:

• A systematic rotation scheduled to replace buses older than 15 years, which tend to require repeated maintenance;

• The need for one or two spares in case of breakdowns;

• The increased number of students, (ac-cording to the 10-day count); and,

• More housing in outlying areas and the need to keep riding time to a minimum.

Of the HUSD's 43 buses, a dozen are older than 15 years, Rozum said.

"Three need engines, three need transmissions. It's high dollar to make repairs," he said.

The buses pass inspection every year, thanks to the district's three, full-time mechanics, one sub and a couple of drivers who help out just to keep up with repairs.

"You've got to fix it right then," Rozum said.

He said the district is working to get on a replacement schedule, because although the state doesn't mandate bus replacement, it does highly recommend such action.

"Most school districts are trying to do theirs at 10 years," Rozum said. "Even Mexico won't take buses over 10 years old."

With 300 new students in the district this year – 200 at the high school alone – the need for additional buses has intensified, officials said. The district runs 39 contracted buses on 219 regular daily routes and another three uncontracted, such as to pre-schools. There is only one spare bus. The buses cover 3,500 miles each day, 179 days per school year. That translates into 626,500 route miles each year, transporting approximately 3,500 students daily.

The district also has two motorcoach buses – the "Bears" specials it uses for athletic travel. Athletic and field trip travel is not included in the route total.

And, finding buses for field trip availability is another problem. Currently, teacherscan schedule trips only be-tween 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. That seriously cuts down on the distance a group can travel for educational purposes and the time it can spend at a location.

Because the elementary and middle schools start at the same time this year – at 8 a.m. – some students are dropped off as early as 7:30 so the drivers can get back on the road to pick up the high school students who need to be at school by 9.

Rozum tries to keep ride time to 35 minutes maximum, but admits some students are on the bus for as long as an hour. A route that extends four miles down Orme Road – for elementary through high school students, and several routes for Liberty Elementary, keep students on the bus for an hour. "Also, we use bigger buses so we don't have to run twice as many," Rozum said, noting that increases ride time somewhat.

The addition of new housing developments in outlying areas, such as Granville, Poquito Valley, Antelope Meadows and Pronghorn Ranch, also creates a need for new routes. "More times, more routes, more buses," Rozum succinctly summed the situation.

He sees the need for as many as eight buses, just to get caught up with growth.

"We used to buy two a year," he said. "This year, we're looking at possibly five additional routes. Adding a few spares, maybe three, means eight buses."

Schmitt said the district is comparing lease agreements to buying buses outright, and new versus used. Leasing to buy, for example 10 new buses, would cost the district approximately $170,000 per year for five years.

"Our transportation director has done a really good job of shopping buses," he said.

He also said the job of keeping enough buses in running condition is difficult.

"It's a struggle," Schmitt said. "It's a growth thing."

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