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Thu, Oct. 17

Local school districts get money to help replace aging bus fleet

One of Prescott Unified School District’s new buses from 2016. (Nanci Hutson/Courier, file)

One of Prescott Unified School District’s new buses from 2016. (Nanci Hutson/Courier, file)

Safe school buses are a must have for area school districts.

They, though, are a big ticket item and so districts strive to milk every mile they can out of them.

So district leaders are pleased that they were targeted to receive new school buses as part of Gov. Doug Ducey’s five-round, $37 million distribution to rural districts and charter schools to buy new buses, including some that will rely on alternative fuels such as propane. The latest $5 million round to Yavapai County was awarded lottery fashion, with Chino Valley and PUSD on the receiving end.

In prior rounds, though, Humboldt Unified and Chino Valley were afforded new buses based on district financial need combined with the age and mileage of existing buses. In total, Humboldt received $770,000 to buy seven buses and Chino Valley has received a total of $380,000 to buy three buses, two of them to be propane-fueled buses.

Prescott Unified was selected in the most recent county lottery to receive $110,000 toward one additional bus, bringing to 20 the number of buses the district has, or will, replace of its 35-bus fleet over the course of the last three years. Twelve new buses were added in the last two years, and seven are now on order. All 19 of those, including 10 propane-fueled additions, were paid for as part of a $415 million bond package approved in 2015.

The state dollars will not cover the total cost of the new buses – most new buses cost between $135,000 and $145,000 – so districts will need to match some funds from their capital reserves. Despite the extra expense, though, district leaders said these state funds have proved critical to updating their fleets.

“This is a huge savings for our district,” said Chino Valley Unified District Superintendent John Scholl.

Had the governor not allocated these dollars, Scholl said the district would have been hunting for dollars to afford to replace at least their oldest bus that dates back to 1980. The fact they can now afford to buy three is a big advantage even with the need to find some matching dollars to make up the difference, he said.

“It’s still a good deal,” Scholl said, noting that the district will likely have to come up with about $50,000 to make up the difference between the funding allocation and true cost of the buses.

Ideally, Scholl said districts would be buying one or two buses a year to properly turn over a fleet. The financial realities, though, often push those parameters, he and other officials admitted.

“This is a big boon for us,” Scholl said. “The money we would have had to spend on a bus we can now spend on other (one-time expense) resources.”

In June 2018, Ducey released the plan to purchase an estimated 280 school buses across rural Arizona through lawsuit settlement funds from the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust.

The fifth wave of funding for 45 of those new buses was just announced this past week.

“Investing in our K-12 schools remains a top priority,” Ducey said in a news release. “Arizona found an innovative way to use these settlement funds to invest in public education. The new school buses have gone a long way to benefit Arizona schools, especially those in low-income districts and rural communities. And with this last round of funding, every rural county in Arizona received at least one bus. Rural schools can use freed up funds to meet other capital needs.” 

With this latest round of funding, Ducey allocated a total of $36.8 million for the purchase of 330 school buses at 141 school districts and charter schools.

Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her t 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.

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