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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 15, 2012

GCSD board mulls $1M plan to buy new buses

GUILDERLAND — The school board will vote next Tuesday on one of four options for bus replacement outlined last week in a lengthy report from the transportation department.

On May 15, the public will vote on the board’s bus proposition at the same time it votes on next year’s school budget. Guilderland gets back about 60 percent of bus purchase costs in state aid.

Vice President Gloria Towle-Hilt, who chairs the board’s business practices committee, said the committee reviewed the report in detail and “felt comfortable” with Option C. The $1,050,800 option “best balances financial resources and transportation priorities,” said Towle-Hilt.

(Towle-Hilt, who was vacationing in Florida, participated in the March 6 meeting using Skype; a computer projecting her image was set up on the board’s dais. Board President Colleen O’Connell said that it is now legal for an absent board member to vote at meetings as long as, via computer, that board member can be seen and heard.)

All four options include one 30-passenger bus for $51,500, one 24-passenger bus that will hold wheelchairs for $63,700, a maintenance truck for $40,000, and legal fees of $10,000.

Option A, the most expensive, for $1.4 million, calls for the purchase of eleven 66-passenger buses, at $110,700 each. Christine Sagendorf, who recently retired as the district’s transportation supervisor, in presenting the report to the board, said that Option A is the “optimal” plan, with the number of buses that should be replaced.

Option B at $1.2 million would purchase nine big buses while Option C calls for the purchase of eight new 66-passenger buses, for a total of $885,600. “This is the edge,” said Sagendorf of Option C. “If we go beyond this…we have more breakdowns, more repairs.” She said the district then wouldn’t be able to accommodate school trips and sports trips.

Option D at $718,700 calls for the purchase of five 66-passenger buses. “We would have to cut out doing sports,” said Sagendorf of Option D. “Chartering a trip is a very, very costly expense.”

The state’s Department of Transportation recommends 10 years of service for a school bus. “Because of excellent care by our mechanics, we’re running most of our buses on an 11-year schedule,” said Sagendorf. “If you purchase no buses…some time, it will catch up with you,” she said.

Danielle Poirier, who just started last week as the new transportation supervisor, reported that the district where she was formerly supervisor, Averill Park, hadn’t purchased any new buses in the past three years. She cited figures showing how bodywork and repairs on old buses ended up costing more than their trade-in value.

Mitch Karkner, Guilderland’s head mechanic, said that, with Option C, three buses would go into their 12th year. “Option C, we can do…but is that going to create a situation next year?” he asked.

Although enrollment across the district is declining, the report does not anticipate reducing bus routes for next year. The report does say that two jobs will be cut.

Superintendent Marie Wiles, in presenting her $89 million budget proposal on March 1, cut a bus-driver’s job, for a savings of $32,840, and a quarter of a post for driver trainer to save $12,590.

Projections at the elementary level indicate an overall increase of 40 students next year.

Altamont expects a decrease of three students and Pine Bush a decrease of two students next year. Guilderland Elementary expects an increase of 32 students, Westmere an increase of nine students, and Lynnwood an increase of four students.

Currently, there are 47 runs at the elementary buildings in the morning and 55 in the afternoon. The additional eight runs in the afternoon are due to transportation to day-care facilities across the district.

At Farnsworth Middle School, a decrease of 18 students is expected next year. The department anticipates keeping the same 32 morning runs and 31 afternoon runs. The average load this school year is 38 students per run.

Guilderland High School expects a decrease of 52 students next year. There are currently 30 runs at the high school in both the morning and afternoon. The average load is 58 students per run, whereas a “comfortable load for high school adult students is 44 per run,” the report says. The runs are purposely “overloaded” because juniors and seniors often drive to school rather than riding the bus.

“The first day of school…we keep our fingers crossed,” Sagendorf told the board.

The number of students riding the buses can fluctuate — for instance, because parents don’t want their students to drive in winter weather, Sagendorf said.

“I can’t square the fact that our population has dropped so much and our loads are running in the 40s with constantly replacing our fleet,” said board member Richard Weisz. “I don’t see why we can’t figure out a way to have more students on a 66-passenger bus.”

Sagendorf responded by saying that 66 passengers means three students sit in each seat. Middle-school and high-school students, she said, can only fit two on a seat, so “full is 44 kids.”

Weisz also asked about different start times for schools.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders noted that a consultant was hired several years ago to look at “bell times,” that is, school starting and ending times, to see if bus routes in the three-tiered system could be run more efficiently. “The consultant with a routing company could not find a model that was more cost effective than what we are utilizing,” he said.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Agreed to refinance serial bonds to save about $68,000 over the life of the bond, which Weisz termed “terrific stewardship by the business office.” Sanders responded that low interest rates are “one of the highlights of a bad economy”;

— Established the Anthony D. Cervoni Running Memorial Scholarship;

— Adopted a 183-day calendar for next year, which, because of difficulties in where holidays fall, has class on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving; “Any variable that could have worked against us, did,” said Superintendent Wiles;

— Reviewed policy proposals, including those on relations with people with disabilities, school board powers and duties, litigation procedures, and physical education;

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton that four Guilderland High School seniors — Clare Ladd, Matthew Seita, Matthew Simon, and Xingyu Wei — have been named National Merit finalists. They will now be considered for some 8,400 scholarships, worth more than $34 million;

— Learned that Guilderland Elementary School, led by its Character Education Committee, is working this month on acceptance of people’s differences and celebrating cultural diversity at the school, which has many students from foreign countries.

Nora Upton, who teaches English as a second language, led a presentation based on poet Charles R. Smith’s “I Am America.”

“I am proud. I am diverse, soft spoken, and loud. I am almond eyes. I am a proud nose. I am cheeks freckled the color of a rose,” the slide show began, with each phrase illustrated by pictures of GES students. Fourth-grade teacher Paula Walters, art teacher Dorothea Osborne, and computer technician Laura Helfer all contributed; and

— Met in executive session for a “personnel discussion” on tenure and a personnel issue, and for negotiation updates on three bargaining units — the Guilderland Teacher Aides’ Association, the Guilderland Teachers’ Association, and the Guilderland Employees’ Association.

— By Melissa Hale-Spencer

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