Purdy school district adopts new bus fleet strategy

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

District replace entire fleet with same vehicles, retain control

After several months of discussion, the Purdy school board decided to continue to operate the school bus system on its own, purchasing and leasing buses for the coming year.

Superintendent Steven Chancellor and board members had held extended discussion over the future of the bus service, even asking Gale Webb Transportation, the company that serves Monett, Pierce City and Verona, for a price for a turnkey operation. At the February board meeting, Mike Bennett and Bo Prock from Eagle Logistics, based in Purdy, presented several options, from selling and leasing buses to the district to taking a more active service in running the buses.

“We felt like the turnkey solution didn’t match our budget or guarantee we’d keep our drivers,” said Superintendent Stephen Chancellor.

Proposals for running the bus service ran from $14,000 to $25,000 a month, depending on the various packages. Chancellor said the various proposals were all fairly similar in price. The school district owns all eight of its buses, which includes a varied fleet of brands and ages. The district pays its drivers salaries and benefits and rents the bus barn, plus fuel and repairs. Overall cost ranges from $140,000 to $150,000 a year.

A major consideration, Chancellor noted, was keeping the drivers.

“It’s no secret that being a bus driver is not the most celebrated position,” Chancellor said. “Ours are very loyal and reliable. We offer them full insurance benefits, like all our other employees, for an out of pocket premium of under $50. When the Affordable Care Act came out, the board designated bus drivers as a protected class so we could offer them insurance. We realized early on we had to offer insurance. My hunch is we’d have zero drivers otherwise.

After weighing the options, the board opted to keep control of its bus system, determining the district could afford bus payments. At the March meeting, the board voted the purchase two buses for $127,2167, 2015 and 2017 models, and to lease four 2018 buses on a five-year lease at a cost of $10,401 annually for four years, then to work with the vendor in the fifth year to cycle new buses into the fleet.

The specifications the school district sought were a Cummins engine and an Allison transmission on an International bus. The contract went to Midwest Transit of Nixa, a nationally recognized “name brand” vendor. Chancellor said the proximity of the vendor provided an advantage for having maintenance work done under warranty.

The closeness of Eagle Logistics, as a Purdy company, made that offer attractive, Chancellor said. Going with a manufacturer opened other options.

Having all the buses from the same brand and model, instead of the current “hodge podge,” would decrease the diagnostic challenges of assessing mechanical and wiring issues, he continued. After rolling the remaining buses into a replacement cycle, the district would trade in its buses every three years, leaving a new fleet every four to five years.

“That will enable us to budget a constant amount each year for buses, like a utility, and maintain a constant payment,” Chancellor said. “By trading our buses in earlier, they will still have value.”

Five of the district’s current buses went into a trade-in deal that reduced the cost for the new buses by around $10,200. Chancellor said the price received for the buses was not much: $3,000 each for three buses, two for $600 each, and one went straight to scrap.

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