In April, the Johnson County School District will receive 11 new school buses – a $1.3 million value – for free thanks to state agencies.
“We have never replaced this many buses in the 19 years I’ve worked in the district,” said Dennis Zezas, the district’s transportation director. “This is going to be a huge boost for our fleet.”
The district will receive the buses courtesy of the state’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grant program provided by the Department of Environmental Quality and the Wyoming Department of Education. The purpose of the program, according to Zezas, is to reduce harmful emissions from older, dirtier diesel vehicles. The rebate program has funded vehicle replacement for more than 1,000 vehicles across the state since it began in 2010, Zezas said. This year, 110 buses across the state have been approved for replacement through the DERA funds.
The school district currently has 31 buses, meaning over a third of the fleet will be replaced through the grant program. All buses being replaced date back to 2006 and earlier. According to the DEQ, the buses release harmful emissions. They are also lacking important safety features including seat belts and backup cameras.
“With these replacements, we would be moving forward, not just from an emissions standpoint but also a safety standpoint for our students,” Zezas said.
Replacement of the buses will cost $1.3 million, according to Business Manager Tom Sarvey. The DEQ will pay upfront for 25 percent of the project – or $333,114 – while the school district will have to pay approximately $999,342 upfront, which will be reimbursed to the district in 10 equal payments by the Department of Education through fiscal 2020.
While the school board unanimously approved moving forward with the bus purchases, trustees are still deciding how to pay for their initial upfront costs. One option is to pull from cash reserves. However, it is possible the money will be needed for other purposes, including refunding money to the county if the county loses any of the tax protest cases in which it is currently embroiled, Sarvey said. A better option may be to spend the $1 million in the district’s capital projects fund and then refill that fund as the Department of Education’s payments come into the district, Sarvey said.
“We get about $1,000 in interest for that fund each year, so we would miss out on that for a year,” Sarvey said. “Aside from that, there really isn’t any drawback to using those funds.”
The new school buses will be delivered to the district by April, and the district will start using them in June, according to Zezas. The existing 11 buses will be destroyed to prevent further emissions.