Smaller buses could be on the table for the Clearview public school division in the near future, as per a motion made at the school board’s regular meeting last month.
The motion followed an annual report made by transportation director Maryann Wingie at the board’s meeting on Thursday, Jan. 29.
The board approved the transportation division’s request for permission to seek quotes for the purchase of five school buses by the end of August.
However, the motion was amended to include a request to pursue quotes for buses of different sizes, following a discussion by the trustees.
Administrators sought approval to get quotes for four 46-passenger buses and one 52-passenger bus, and with the option of cargo holds, but trustee John Schofer suggested that purchasing smaller buses may save the school division money while still meeting its transportation needs.
Associate superintendent Peter Neale explained that the division maintains a fleet of 51 active buses and three extracurricular buses, and that older buses are eventually redirected to serve as spares to be used when the regular buses are out of commission.
After a bus has served the division for 10 years, he said, the division has found it cost-effective to cycle it out and replace it with a new model.
For the 2013-14 school year, seven buses were purchased at a total of $697,911, according to the report.
Neale said he couldn’t guarantee that buying smaller buses would result in any savings, owing to a variety of factors, including the added complexity that would result from maintaining a fleet of buses with a wide range of sizes.
“On the rural roads, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to invest in microbuses,” he said. “It wouldn’t be my recommendation.”
Wingie also stated that larger buses are easier to maintain, while trustee Dave Goodwin said the relative scarcity of smaller buses may add a new strain on the budget.
“It may appear to be a savings, but in the long run it may end up costing us more,” he said.
Trustee Yvette Cassidy expressed agreement with Schofer’s point, saying she believed the less densely-populated areas of the division could be served by smaller buses.
“I’ll go to my grave saying this,” she said. “I pass two buses from Erskine almost every morning, and unless those kids are riding face down on the floor, there are no kids on that second bus.”
Goodwin made a motion to accept the board’s recommendation, while Cassidy made the amendment to seek quotes on smaller buses — specifically, with seating for 24 to 36 students — and gas-powered models.
All trustees except Goodwin voted in favour of the amendment, while the entire board voted in favour of the amended motion, with the exception of trustee Staci Gerlitz, who was absent.
Trustee Ken Checkel also expressed his appreciation of the transportation staff and their efforts to maintain data on student ride times.
The report indicated a projected transportation deficit of $9,236, down considerably from the $100,000 deficit anticipated last spring, and noted that the department continues to receive an allocation of $300,000 from instructional grants to support its services.
The report also noted that the division continues to pursue a co-operative busing agreement with East Central Alberta Catholic Schools that would benefit students and schools located within the County of Stettler. A similar arrangement is currently in place covering schools and students in the County of Paintearth.
The division’s policy committee is expected to bring forth a new draft policy regarding yard services for board consideration this month.
The report noted that the department has met the goals provided by the board on ride times, with an average ride time for students in Kindergarten to Grade 9 of less than one hour, and an average ride time of less than 75 minutes for students in grades 10 to 12.
“We’re continuing to strive each year to try to make that better for the future,” said Wingie.
According to a memo presented to the board, a total of 1,332 students ride Clearview’s buses on a daily basis, or about 54 per cent of the student population.