06-19-14: New school buses to improve efficiency and maximize safety
06-19-14: New school buses to improve efficiency and maximize safety
Posted on 06/18/2014

The district will roll out 30 new 84-passenger school buses this fall in a continued effort to improve the efficiency of its bus fleet and maximize student safety.


The buses will replace models that date as far back as 30 years and can, over time, cost more to repair than to replace, said Chief Financial Officer Corine Pennington.


"The safety of our students is paramount to us," Pennington said. "Our drivers do such important work, and they need the tools to do their jobs well."


The new buses will also have improved fuel efficiency and reduced emissions, as well as safety features including tinted windows and light-emitting diode (LED) exterior lighting.


Some of the buses will feature underbody luggage compartments to hold musical instruments, athletic gear, or other large items difficult to store in the seating area, Pennington said.


While the initial $3.8 million purchase is paid for by the district, the state reimburses school districts for the cost of new buses over time based on an annual depreciation schedule.


The depreciation payments continue for up to 13 years, depending on the type of bus purchased. The reimbursement money can only be used to invest in more ne school buses, Pennington said.


The goal, she said, is for the school district to maintain a regular bus replacement cycle that continues to update the fleet and generate state depreciation money. Before this latest bus purchase, 90 of the district's 188 buses - less than half of the fleet - qualified for depreciation funding, she said.


The district is also moving toward having a more uniform fleet of buses that have the same engines and transmissions, as well as other interchangeable parts. By doing so, mechanics can specialize in a few, rather than many, types of buses and parts.


Much like someone who owns a car, repairs add up as a vehicle ages. Replacing an engine in an older model school bus, for example, can cost as much as 20 percent of a new bus purchase, Pennington said.


In some cases, it is difficult to even repair some of the older buses in Puyallup's fleet because parts are obsolete, she said. While older buses average five to six miles per gallon of gas, newer models get as much as 9 miles per gallon, Pennington said.


Careful management of the school district's funds has made it possible to move ahead with the purchase of 30 buses, said Superintendent Tim Yeomans.


The district also purchased five new buses last November and helped offset the cost of three more earlier this year after being approved for a $90,000 Department of Ecology grant.


"A regular rotation of our bus fleet minimizes maintenance costs and maximizes student safety," Yeomans said. "This is about being good stewards of the public's money."