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With the ax expected fall on state funds, school busing fee could be on the horizon in West Aurora

The West AurorSchool District is having revise its budget for transportatiwake cuts from state funding. File pho| Sun-Times Media

The West Aurora School District is having to revise its budget for transportation in wake of cuts from state funding. File photo | Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 23, 2013 7:41PM

A fee for school bus service may be in the future for West Aurora schools.

The West Aurora School Board on Monday night received a 2013-2014 fiscal year budget update forecasting a continuation of general state aid cuts, including a reduction in state transportation reimbursements for bus service.

Gov. Pat Quinn is proposing in the next fiscal year budget to cut transportation reimbursements to a 19 percent level, which would be about an 81 percent cut from this year and translate to an estimated $1 million less for the district.

“…We have chosen not to raise the flag with respect to our community, but at some point we have to make an assumption whether it will happen or not,” Superintendent James Rydland said of Quinn’s proposal to further reduce transportation reimbursements.

“I am concerned that we would have to take money away from general education because of the transportation issues if we don’t make modifications in transportation,” School Board President Neal Ormond said.

School Board member Angela Smith suggested the district consider a “reasonable fee” for busing services to fill a potential gap.

“For most families busing is a lifestyle issue — parents leave for work at a time knowing when their child will board a school bus. For most families, having a reasonable fee and to keep the existing level (of busing) would be a trade-off and something we should explore,” Smith said.

School Board member Mark Bradford said such a plan would need to be discussed completely before being voted on.

“I would hope before we go that route we listen to our community,” Bradford said.

To help deal with the potential reduction in transportation funds, the School Board voted Monday to authorize a five-year bus lease agreement that trustees said is financially more feasible over buying new models to replace an aging fleet.

“Sometimes you have to spend money to (save) money and in this case we are going to (save) in lower maintenance (costs), better depreciation and safer equipment,” Smith said.

Christi Tyler, District 129 chief financial officer, said 29 of the district’s buses are 10 to 17 years old with mileage in the 120,000 to 190,000 range. The School Board has been shown photographs of the fleet showing signs of badly corroded floors, step wells and back doors.

“We need to do something with our existing fleet — we have children on buses that are 17 years old and rotting out,” Tyler said.

She said the aging fleet has a list of mechanical needs well beyond routine maintenance.

“We are at the point that some of the buses are in need of transmission and engine replacement, as well as body work — body parts are rusting,” she said.

Another 24 of the district’s buses were purchased in 2009 and have 60,000 to 80,000 miles and those, too, are in need of work, such as electronic door module replacements.

On the oldest models, the district has fully depreciated on transportation claims, while the school buses approaching the five-year mark will be fully depreciated for claims at the end of the year, Tyler said.

“Purchasing new buses is a major capital outlay that quite honestly we do not have,” Tyler said.

Tyler said there is value in leasing. It will provide savings in general maintenance and repair bills because the leased buses will be under full warranty. She said a school bus costs around $175,000 to purchase new.

The chief financial officer said the leasing model would mean that the district could avoid having to contract out for special education transportation services. Tyler said the leasing agreement includes the sale of the district’s existing bus fleet for an estimated $960,000.

The lease agreement for 58 buses with Central State Bus will cost the district an estimated $3.4 million over five years. The projected savings for taking back some of the special education routes is an estimated $250,000 to the district, she said.

The 2014 model school buses will be equipped with GPS and two-way radio capabilities, as well as security cameras. A fleet of 10 special education buses are anticipated by the beginning of the next school year, while 48 buses for general education will be available in September.

“I am very encouraged that staff began talking about a safety issue and at the same time we are being fiscally responsible and are saving the district in the long run,” Bradford said.

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