12/4/2013 2:00:00 PM Jefferson in Holding Pattern Over School Bus Replacement
Jefferson School Committee Chair Robert Westrich (left) and Scott Higgins, the head school bus driver for Jefferson Village School, met with the town's board of selectmen on Dec. 2 about replacing three school buses. (D. Lobkowicz photo)
By Dominik Lobkowicz
School officials say Jefferson Village School needs to replace three buses due to mounting repair costs, but the Jefferson Board of Selectmen is waiting for more information before deciding what action they may take.
Jefferson School Committee Chair Robert Westrich, committee member Ellie Day, JVS Principal Peter Gallace, and Scott Higgins, the school's head school bus driver, attended the selectmen's meeting on Dec. 2 to discuss the bus issue.
According to Westrich, $56,400 was spent on bus repairs in the school year ending June 30, 2012, $68,900 in the following year, and $28,400 has already been spent since the beginning of the current school year.
Westrich said the school has applied for reimbursement from the state for the purchase of three new buses.
If approved, the state would reimburse $40,000 of the roughly $80,000 purchase price for each bus in its education subsidy in the school year following the purchase, he said.
The school has three buses that exceed the age and mileage requirements the state has used for determining eligibility in the past, Westrich said.
"We wouldn't have to purchase them next year, but our children's safety is paramount and the board would rather spend money on education than bus repairs," he said.
Along with the use of $30,000 being held by the town for the purchase of a new bus, Westrich proposed the selectmen include warrant articles on the town meeting warrant to use roughly $44,000 in a town account for high school student transportation reimbursement that is no longer in use and the funds in a reserve account for a new school building to fund the majority of the bus purchases.
The balance in the school building account was $166,080.75 as of Dec. 31, 2012, according to the 2012 Jefferson annual report.
Westrich said the bus purchase reimbursements from the state would be reused until the bus fleet is updated, and then any amount remaining in excess of $100,000 would be put in the long-term maintenance account for the new school building the town already has.
The selectmen quickly moved the discussion away from using the school building funds for the purchase of buses.
According to Selectman Chair Greg Johnston, the $30,000 is the school's money to use, and said he would have no problem taking a question about using the $44,000 to the voters to get approval.
After discussion, though, the selectmen indicated they wanted to hear the results of the reimbursement application - results are expected in January, Westrich said - before making any decision on what warrant articles to include for town meeting.
Westrich said the school committee would push to find out the results and get back to the selectmen.
In response to questions from the selectmen, Higgins told the selectmen business managers for AOS 93 have periodically looked into hiring an outside company to do transportation for the town, and said he has been told the school is doing it more cheaply.
Higgins also advised against pursuing refurbishing buses, since $30,000 was invested on a ten-year-old bus in recent years and the bus now will not pass inspection.
After the school officials left the meeting, Johnston said the committee should do another comparison of the total cost of fuel, maintenance, employees and benefits, and bus replacement with hiring out the transportation to a private company.
In the school committee meeting later that evening, Westrich seemed exasperated with the selectmen's response to the bus replacement proposal.
"It's inconceivable to hold $170,000 in a school building account when we just got a new school building," he said.