Wheaton schools save $40,000 with new program

Wednesday, June 7, 2017
The Wheaton school district was one of only four districts in Missouri to be selected for a federal diesel rebate program through the EPA, which allowed them to replace two older buses and purchase two new ones that will be environmentally-friendly, and provide a $20,000 per-bus rebate. The new buses were delivered on May 26 to the school. Pictured in photo, from left, with the bus, are: Tony Ball, Wheaton school board member, Gary Bertalotto, Wheaton school district director of transportation, Dr. Lance Massey, Wheaton superintendent, Jon Horner, Security Bank of Southwest Missouri president and Derek Sears, Central States Bus Sales. Contributed photo

Superintendent: ‘It’s a win-win situation for us’

The Wheaton school district was one of only four Missouri school districts to be selected for a federal diesel rebate program through the Environmental Protection Agency, which will allow the school to replace two older school buses with new, more environmentally-friendly buses, and save the district $40,000.

The new, 2018 model Bluebird buses were delivered to the school on Friday at a cost of $85,589 per-bus, minus the rebate savings.

According to Lance Massey, Wheaton school district superintendent, more than 500 school bus fleets applied for the rebate program, the 2016 School Bus Replacement and Retrofit Funding Opportunity, administered by the EPA’s National Clean Diesel Rebate Program, requesting over $44 million in funding, and 88 applicants across the country were awarded a total of $7.7 million.

“I think we’re fortunate to have been selected,” Massey said. “It’s a great opportunity for a small district like Wheaton to upgrade our fleet. “We were informed in early December that we were a recipient of the grant.”

Gary Bertalotto, Wheaton school transportation director, who found the program after searching for nearly two years, completed the application, which was due Nov. 1, 2016.

“Gary visited other school districts and had applied for the program,” Massey said. “Basically, it’s about getting some of the older, less-efficient buses out of school fleets, and replacing them with newer, cleaner-burning buses. Its a win-win for us, because we were able to replace two of our buses in need of repair, and help the environment at the same time.”

“It’s a federal program that includes all 50 states,” Bertalotto said. “I feel lucky we got it. The main goal is to get the older buses off the road.”

The two buses replaced included a 1998 and 2001 model, that, due to their age, needed repairs on a regular basis, Bertalotto said. The addition of the new buses will maintain Wheaton’s fleet of eight.

Socioeconomics and older buses were some of the deciding factors Bertalotto believes helped the district get the competitive rebate. “That, and we had older buses were two of the main reasons,” he said. “Models 2003 and older qualified. They want to clean up the air, and we qualified for everything they asked for.”

The process included first getting accepted, obtaining pricing for new buses, purchasing the buses by a certain date, then providing evidence of the old buses were destroyed, Bertalotto said. And after meeting a few conditions, the program comes with a huge perk: A $20,000-per-bus rebate.

“We would’ve bought the same buses, so we were able to save the district $40,000,” Massey said.

Some of those conditions required that applicants must own the buses to be replaced, must commit to operating the new buses for three years, existing buses must be diesel-powered and a class 3-8, transport 10 or more students, be operational and in regular use at the time of application.

Before receiving the rebates, the district must jump through a few hoops first — by proving the old buses have been completely destroyed within six months, Massey said.

“We have to provide evidence that we put a 3-inch hole in the engine block, because the EPA doesn’t want someone to buy the diesel engine and put it in a truck and keep it on the road. We also have to cut the frame in half and show pictures.”

Bids were put out to three bus suppliers: International Bus, Thomas Built Bus and Central States Bus Sales. The Wheaton Board of Education reviewed bids at its Feb. 21st meeting and selected Bluebird buses from Central States Bus Sales.

“Central States came back with the best bid based on the specification for our rebate,” Massey said. “We did a lease purchase on these buses, so when we get close to the end of that financing, we’ve got three other buses that would qualify for the program. I think it’s a very smart way to buy new buses if we can get approved again in the future.”

A local bank stepped in to help make the purchase possible.

“Our bonding and underwriting firm, LJ Hart and Company, asked local investors if they’d like to finance the bus purchases, and Jon Horner, president of Security Bank of Southwest Missouri, said he would like to finance it through a second-party lending agency. He basically put up all the money for both buses. It’s nice to see the local banks help out when these companies put out opportunities like that, and nice when you get someone like Horner who invests in local activities.”

The $40,000 received from the rebate money will help the district save money.

“We will be in rotation to purchase a bus this year, so the funds will help stretch us out a little, and we’re going to make a prepayment to our current lease-purchase debt, which will make the payments on our buses lower. So we’re going to make sure we’re wise stewards of taxpayers’ money.”

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