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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 10, 2011

School board mulls bus purchase

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The school board is considering three options for bus replacement, ranging from just under half-a-million dollars to over a million dollars.

“Each year, it gets harder and harder…to sell buses,” Christine Sagendorf, the district’s transportation supervisor, told the school board on Tuesday night.

Her presentations used to get routine approval from the board. Since state aid started declining and budget pressures increased, she has taken to amassing detailed data on routes, mileage, enrollment, and demand before presenting several options.

This year, as the board is considering the superintendent’s proposal for an $89 million budget that would raise taxes about 4 percent and cut 44 jobs, Sagendorf said, “We’re very much aware we’re in hard economical times.”

“By design,” said Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders, “we intend to consistently replace a small portion of our fleet each year.” Keeping the average age of the 114-bus fleet at five years, he said, levels out repair costs, allows for new technology, and shortens the learning curve for mechanics.

Sagendorf pointed out that the district’s 2006 transportation study recommended replacing buses every 10 years. The state’s Department of Transportation guidelines advise every 10 years or 100,000 miles, said Sagendorf, and the governor’s office has also just recommended replacement every 10 years or 120,000 miles.

Sagendorf outlined these three options:

— For $1,131,400, replace eight 66-passenger buses at $112,700 or $114,300 each; three 30-passenger buses at $53,700 each; and one wheelchair bus at $65,500;

— For $793,300, replace five 66-passenger buses, three 30-passenger buses, and one wheelchair bus; or

—         For $453,600, replace two 66-passenger buses, three 30-passenger buses, and one wheelchair bus.

The school board will make a decision at its next regular meeting on March 22. The proposition will go to public vote on May 17. If it passes, 60 percent will be reimbursed by state aid. The full proposal is to be posted on the district’s website: www.guilderlandschools.org.

Three 30-passenger buses are to be replaced in all three plans. “They go all over…out of the district,” said Sagendorf, since Guilderland must also transport private-school and special-education students. “They’re not as well built as the larger buses,” she said.

Sagendorf, who uses computer software to map out bus routes, said that her department had looked at the declining enrollment at the district’s five elementary schools but concluded bus runs couldn’t be decreased. The district’s current enrollment of 5,236 is expected to drop by 114 next year, mostly at the elementary schools. “It equals out,” she said.

Sagendorf distributed pictures to board members of buses in need of repairs, and head mechanic Mitch Karkner said that older buses need more costly repairs. He recommended the first option and warned, “You’ll end up with a big bond purchase some day.”

Sagendorf said that, if the board adopts the third, least expensive proposal, she was not “100-percent sure these vehicles could make it.” She also said, a bus could break down in 10-below-zero weather. “We need to be reliable,” said Sagendorf.

Board President Richard Weisz said he was troubled that the fleet has only decreased by one bus while enrollment in recent years has decreased by about 600 students or roughly 5 percent. He also thought there would be less demand as the current budget proposal eliminates freshman sports and, he said, “At some point, we may have to study closing a school.”

Weisz asked about considering a plan that would purchase three or four big buses along with the small ones.

“It’s pay now or pay later,” said board member Barbara Fraterrigo. “You just dig yourself deeper in the hole…You have to maintain your fleet.”

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