The Kaneland school district has postponed routine replacement of its school buses for a few years, after the Great Recession hit.
But even though money is still tight, it's time to start thinking about buying at least five -- preferably 10 -- new buses, according to district administrators.
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The school board Monday approved adding $400,000 to the district's financial-projection model. The projection for the district's finances will be presented to the board for discussion in December.
Assistant Superintendent for Business Julie-Ann Fuchs said that 23 buses, or about 40 percent of the fleet, have more than 140,000 miles on them. Maintenance and repair costs are increasing, she said. Compounding the wear-and-tear is that Kaneland buses travel over 17 gravel roads. Besides increasing tire wear, gravel can damage the bus body.
The district is exploring getting an Environmental Protection Agency grant of $25,000 per bus.
Board member Joe Oberweis also suggested the district investigate an operating lease, as opposed to a capital lease, for buses. The district can't do a capital lease, due to state restrictions on the amount of debt the district can have, Fuchs said.
Board member Elmer Gramley also suggested that the district consider extended warranties on the drive trains and engines of any new buses it buys.
The district used to add about five full-size buses a year to its fleet when its population was growing and had a regular replacement schedule.
"We were doing really well until everything (the economy) bottomed out," Fuchs said.
The initial financial projection model also will include a suggestion to spend $500,000 for computer hardware and software improvements. The district's technology coordinator believes the upgrades will be needed in part to meet an upcoming state requirement to have students take state-mandated assessments online up to three times a year.
Board member Tony Valente asked why the district should assume it will have to pay all the costs, not the state.
Fuchs said she has been told by the state board of education office that no money is set aside for this in the state budget, and last week the office told her to expect a 9 percent reduction in the general state aid the district receives.
"I feel hard-pressed to believe the state will not subsidize" something it requires, Valente said.
Valente also asked if spending $400,000 on new buses would mean taking money from elsewhere in the school district's budget. Superintendent Jeff Schuler said nothing has been determined yet, but that is a possibility.