By Jeff Harrison
A stream of 70 yellow buses flows to all corners of the Mid-Del school district, bringing students to school in the morning and back home again in the afternoon. Those same buses carry students to and from activities across the state.
In between routes, the buses head back to the transportation facility for tune-ups and repairs. A team of mechanics work to keep the fleet in good shape, doing everything from fixing broken window latches and changing light bulbs to rebuilding engines and replacing tires.
“After every route, we’re working to get them ready for the next run,” said Ron Stearns, Mid-Del Schools director of transportation. “When you have kids on those buses, everything needs to be right and safe.”
District officials say they’re having to spend more time and money to keep the aging fleet running. Budget cuts have limited the district’s ability to replace buses. Ron Stearns, director of transportation, said the district should replace about seven buses per year based on the size of the fleet.
“The first year it’s not a big deal, but as you go down the road it creates a crisis,” Stearns said. “We’re at the point where it’s difficult to maintain the buses we have.”
Stearns said school buses experience a lot of wear and tear due to the number of stops and starts in a route. A route bus has a lifespan of about 10 years or 150,000 miles.
“You wouldn’t think 150,000 miles is a lot for a car, but it’s pretty strenuous when you’re stopping and starting every hundred feet in a bus,” Stearns said.
After buses reache that point, the cost of repairs start to outweigh the cost of replacement.
“As a bus gets older the repairs get more expensive. I can deal with $25,000 for a transmission, but we can’t spend $80,000 for a new bus,” he said. “And we could’ve bought a new bus for what we’ve spent keeping some of these buses safe for children.”
An upcoming bond election could help alleviate that pressure. The $130.6 million school bond proposal would provide money to replace the entire fleet of 70 buses over 10 years. The Mid-Del School bond proposal is split into two propositions with $121.3 million for school facilities, technology and upgrades, and $9.3 million for transportation.
Voters will decide on the bond proposals on Oct. 10. The bond proposals need 60 percent to pass.
The bond proposal would provide funding for route buses and special transport buses. A route bus costs about $80,000 and a special transportation bus is about $90,000. A special transport bus is wheelchair accessible and has custom seating for students with special needs.
Stearns said the district has been able to buy a few buses in recent years, but not enough to replace older buses. In the past, the district received some funding from MAPS. To help the issue, the district leased 10 buses a couple years ago. If the bond passes, the district plans to purchase the buses at the end of the three-year lease.
Included in the fleet of 70 buses, are 11 designated as “activity buses.” The buses are used to transport students and faculty to activities such as band, drama, sporting events. The buses are typically low mileage and some have air conditioning. If the bond is approved, the district plans to move some of the current activity buses to regular routes.