School Transportation: Staying Safe & Looking to Future Use and Expenses

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Thursday May 31, 2012

Parents and guardians of South Burlington students would be pleased to hear that Assistant Superintendent Winton Goodrich believes the school’s bus drivers are “the best trained than any I’ve ever seen in the state,” based on an administration report he shared during a School Board meeting last month. Bus driver experience was just one of the positively noted topics related to school transportation.

The average years of experience for a South Burlington school bus driver is 10 years; with some drivers having been on the job for as many as 30 years, Goodrich explained. The criteria used for Goodrich’s positive statement goes beyond years of experience; the drivers are also trained in CPR, AED (automated external defibrillator), CPI (Crisis Prevention Intervention), and First Observer (a national safety program). According to a letter to parents and students from Debra Courtemanche, transportation supervisor for the South Burlington School District, the drivers are also certified in emergency bus evacuations, Epi Pen usage, defensive driving and traffic safety laws.

Drivers are also familiar with the students’ routines, behaviors, and activities, and they know students’ parents/guardians on a first-name basis.

Goodrich said that the District also provides transportation for the schools’ 15-30 field and athletic trips each week; about seven drivers are willing and ready to commit to the trips which  “taxes us to have not only the routes run a.m. and after [school] but also to go to other schools.”

Goodrich said in the analysis, there are different types of transportation that districts can offer including full transportation or bus passes (Burlington offers bus passes for students—excluding special needs students who take vans).  South Burlington is considered a hybrid; the majority of students ride via school transportation and Burlington students who attend SB High School take CCTA. There has also been talk about offering a walking school bus next year. Goodrich and Courtemanche have been in communication about this safe and healthy option.

Also in the report, Goodrich noted a cost-saving route change; a radius change from six-tenths of a mile to nine-tenths of a mile. There would need to be an analysis of any proposed route change that would help the students—athletes for example—who stay past late bus hours.

Bus amenities were also reviewed in the report highlighting that District buses transporting students to and from Georgia and Grand Isle offer Wi-fi, Goodrich said. According to Superintendent David Young, there have been reports back from students who claim to have high usage of the service.
In addition to Wi-fi on some busses, South Burlington has been given another improvement opportunity: a federal grant is available to help fund the purchase of up to half the cost of compressed natural gas buses, Goodrich said.

“That has great value not only for the longevity of the vehicle, more importantly, the cost per energy unit is $2 less for compressed natural gas than it is for diesel, and we know where diesel and gas prices are going,” Goodrich said. “We’re optimistic that that will be a good transition for us.”

South Burlington is a “leader of the pack” in considering this option, Goodrich said. “There aren’t a lot of Districts like we are that would be able to make that decision.”

The cost of a regular bus would be between $85,000-$95,000 whereas a CNG bus could be $125,000-$130,000. Even so, the footprint value of natural gas is much better, Goodrich said. Diesel-run buses require oil changes about six times a year, and it is sludge-like. CNG buses would only require a change once a year and the oil is clear.

Business Manager John Stewart explained that they analyzed the life expectancy of a bus to be 10 years. Four years ago they determined that six buses were over 10 years old and therefore had to lease newer buses instead of buying and financing them. Leasing buses over five years and then purchasing them over five years is the financial approach they are using, Stewart said.

This expense would come close to $2 million. Board member Diane Bugbee asked if there was a possibility that transportation not be a component of their infrastructure. Young said that the total cost would need to be assessed before coming to a decision.

The District and the City also need to address the financial figures with cost-sharing for mechanic service on the school bus fleet. City Manager Sandy Miller and Superintendent David Young were in disagreement on appropriate shared charges. Agreement on a figure will likely help the district decide on the future of transportation upgrades.

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent