Naperville Central students urge school board to shift to electric buses

Two months after Naperville Unit District 203 officials said a shift to electric buses was not currently feasible, a group of students spoke at this week's school board meeting to detail the need for an environmentally cleaner fleet of vehicles.

Five students from a Peace and Conflict Studies class at Naperville Central High School researched electric buses from various angles. They told the school board about the potential health benefits, the grants available to mitigate the costs, and the long-term financial benefits. They also provided examples of surrounding districts currently investing in electric buses.

"Through conversations with experts and subsequent research, it is evident that electric buses are vital to our future," student Emma Orend said. "We must implement them into our school district's transportation fleet to benefit both the environment and ourselves."

While school board members and Superintendent Dan Bridges didn't respond to the students during Monday's meeting, the issue arose on March 21 when the board approved the purchase of 17 diesel-powered buses at a cost of $1.8 million. Board members Donna Wandke and Joe Kozminski voted no, with Wandke expressing frustration at the lack of urgency in shifting to electric buses.

District Chief Financial Officer Michael Frances said a shift was difficult because the district didn't qualify for grants that would make the transition affordable. The standard 71-passenger diesel-powered buses purchased by the district cost $108,497, but the electric equivalent costs anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000.

The students who spoke on Monday - Orend, Frank Pan, Sofia Fernandez, Claire Savage and Grace Niketas - still urged the school board for action, noting a recently announced plan from neighboring Indian Prairie Unit District 204 to start an electric bus pilot program.

"Ultimately, the benefits of this transition are numerous," Niketas said. "Electric buses are better for the environment, public health and, over time, will reduce transportation costs."

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