Board chooses separate prop for electric buses, vows to tell public they will be free

— Photo by UniversityRailroad
Electric buses — these are made by Blue Bird — look similar to traditional buses but with a clearly labeled battery compartment.

GUILDERLAND — The school board here says it has its work cut out for it as it must educate the public about both the state requirement for electric buses and the fact that, if the governor’s budget proposal prevails, electric buses purchased this year will cost the district nothing.

After a lengthy discussion at their last meeting, board members on Tuesday settled on two bus propositions for the May 21 ballot.

One, for $1.3 million, will be typical of the district’s usual purchases, replacing buses every decade or so. It will include six 65-passenger buses, a 24-passenger wheelchair-capable bus, a transportation maintenance truck, and a skid steer.

The second proposition, for $407,500 will be for two electric buses: a 65-passenger bus and a 30-passenger bus. Currently, both the one-house proposal from the State Senate and Assembly, as well as the executive budget plan cover costs for electric buses and chargers.

“We would only move forward with this purchase were the enacted budget to include full ability for the purchase,” said Assistant Superintendent for Business Andrew Van Alstyne.

He had explained earlier that the district had settled on getting just two electric buses for next year so that mechanics and drivers could learn how they worked and also because later models might be improved.

“I think we should put them together,” said the board’s vice president, Kelly Person, advocating for just one bus proposition. She went on, referencing state requirements, “I don’t want to give people options. It’s coming. We don’t have an option of not getting buses.”

Schools have a state requirement that, starting in 2027, new buses must be zero-emissions — which means electric since hydrogen is not yet an option — and by 2035, all school buses must be zero-emissions.

Board President Seema Rivera asked what would happen if people who are against electric vehicles voted down a single bus proposition, leaving the district without its usual complement of diesel-fueled or gasoline-fueled buses.

“Is there some movement out there?” asked Person.

“For sure, yeah,” responded Rivera. “I’m not saying it’s right or wrong but I mean people use their vote to voice their opinion, right? So to me, that’s risky.”

“My understanding from this is that we wouldn’t be putting it on the ballot unless we had assurances in the state budget that it was reimbursable,” said board member Rebecca Butterfield of the electric buses.

“So maybe the question that we’ve not fully answered is: What happens if we don’t have an enacted [state] budget before we print ballots?” said Van Alstyne.

He explained that the ballot measure authorizes the district to borrow up to a certain amount. “It’s a limit,” he said.

“If we authorize borrowing $407,500 and then we don’t make the purchase,” said Van Alstyne, “we don’t have to borrow it.”

Superintendent Marie Wiles said the district needs the traditional buses “no matter what.” Splitting the bus purchases into two propositions, she said, would help ensure getting those traditional buses even if the electric buses aren’t popular.

 The sprawling suburban district transports 4,850 students with district-employed drivers running 60 bus routes and another 30 routes contracted out.

Guilderland currently has 109 vehicles to transport students: 81 big 66-passenger buses, with about half running on diesel and the other half on gasoline; 13 smaller 30-passenger buses; seven 18-passenger buses; three 24-passenger buses; three minivans; and two Suburbans.

Later, when the district needs to make a full transition to zero-emissions buses, Wiles said, it could be just one proposition.

Person said that, depending on how November's presidential election goes, federal funding for electric vehicles may dry up. “I’m just saying you might be missing out on $400,000,” she said.

Both Person and board member Kimberly Blasiak worried voters might not carefully read or understand their ballots. Blasiak surmised that voters may think, “The district’s claiming poverty but yet they have money to buy electric buses, not knowing the mandates, not knowing that we have the money coming in.”

Ultimately, all eight board members present at Tuesday’s meeting agreed to having two bus propositions on the May 21 ballot and also agreed that the district would have to work to educate the public that the electric buses would be free.


Other business

In other business at its March 26 meeting, the Guilderland School Board:

— Heard from Wiles that the district’s schools will dismiss early on April 8 because of the solar eclipse, which goes from 2:12 to 4:26 p.m.

The high school will dismiss at 10:30 a.m. followed by the middle school at 11:45  a.m., and finally the five elementary schools at 1 p.m.

Wiles said, among the 24 districts in the Capital Region BOCES, nine will be open for a full day on April 8; nine, including Guilderland, are dismissing classes early; and five are closing fully that day.

Board member Blanca Gonzalez-Parker said she had originally favored having the day off but then learned how expensive that would be. “And, given our economic situation, that’s not something we can do,” she said;

— Heard a glowing report from Wiles on a tour she took with 10 high school girls of the Watervliet Arsenal to learn about “nontraditional STEM professions that are available to women”;

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Rachel Anderson that the March 15 Superintendent’s Conference Day was a success with many workshops led by teachers and other staff in the district;

— Bid a fond farewell to the board’s president, Rivera, who is resigning to become a member of the state’s Board of Regents.

There will be three open seats for the May 21 school board elections. Only one incumbent, Gonzalez-Parker, is now seeking re-election. Candidates must submit petitions with 43 signatures to the district clerk by April 22. So far, six packets have been taken out;

— Accepted the annual assessment of financial risk prepared for the district by Questar III Board of Cooperative Educational Services; and

— Approved a new club at the middle school called “Light Seekers” so students “can connect with other people about their Christian faith,” the application said.

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