School board: APS to issue bonds for buses

ARLINGTON – The Arlington School Board approved a plan on Monday to issue $1.2 million in bonds to buy 10 new buses.

The district would prefer to buy them with transportation funds, but too many buses are off the depreciation schedule and not generating enough revenue from sources such as the state to support sustainable replacement, district officials said.

“We’re going a different route this time,” said Brian Lewis, executive director of operations. “I wouldn’t normally propose borrowing money, but given the current state of our fleet we need to take some steps to begin restoring it.”

The fleet includes 33 full-size transit buses and 15 smaller-size buses. Some of the big buses that would be replaced are almost 25 years old with odometer readings in excess of 300,000 miles. Lewis said a more-suitable life cycle would run about 14 years. The cost of a new full-size school bus runs $133,000 or more, he added.

The backlog of older buses happened in part because the district experienced significant growth in the 2000s and an influx of new students, and there were no transfer of monies from the general fund to the transportation fund to buy new ones, although some funds were used to buy used buses, Lewis said.

State law allows the district to issue bonds limited to three-fifths of one percent of taxable property within school district boundaries, which totals about $12 million. The actual cost for the buses will be just over $1.3 million, with the balance coming out of the transportation fund and a general fund transfer of $100,000

Monies will help buy four 84-passenger buses to be delivered and in operation starting in April, and six more on the road in September.

The Thomas Built Buses Saf-T-Liner HDX model provides adequate seating and runs quieter, Lewis said. “It’s all about making sure we have safe vehicles to transport our students in,” whether to and from school, or traveling outside the district for field trips, sports-related outings or other events.

The buses also have luggage carriers. Among safety features, videocameras inside the buses, and a camera mounted outside the driver’s window that will be able to record license plates of violators who run the stop-paddle.

In other board matters:

• Post Middle School students shared findings from a quarterly STEM project that was out of this world. The 7th- and 8th-grade students studying science, technology, engineering and math used concepts to answer the question of how people could grow food on Mars, with the movie and book, “The Martian” for added inspiration. The students studied various elements, then used different soils from their own homes with different fertilizer balances of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium to see how their fruits and berries might grow. Carrots were chosen by one student for their protein value, another chose grapes for taste and growth in bunches, and another selected blackberries for vitamins and because they would grow fast. They didn’t have to take into account availability of water on Mars or the weather. The focus was soil.

• Administrators read a governor’s proclamation declaring March 12-16 Education Support Professionals Week. Arlington Public Schools has 320 support professional that includes bus drivers, kitchen workers and para-professionals.

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