County school bus purchase put on hold

Published 6:14 pm Tuesday, April 29, 2014

New Dallas County school buses will have to wait until next summer.

Dallas County Superintendent of Education Don Willingham said the school system would not be able to purchase 25 buses until June 2015 due to an unpaid purchase agreement. The school system has to first pay off one of two prior purchasing agreement, which are about $175,000 each, before entering another financial agreement on a 10-year lease.

“It wasn’t an unexpected issue,” Willingham said after the meeting. “We knew we were going to have to pay off the first lease agreement, and so knew that comes up next summer.”

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According to the Alabama State Department of Education’s website, the ALSDE transportation department does not require public schools to retire school buses after a certain amount of years. As part of its Alabama Fleet Renewal Program, the ALDSE will give $6,000 for each year after a bus was built for all buses 10 years old or less. Therefore, a school system can receive a maximum of $60,000 from the state transportation department in return for a bus made 10 years ago.

Buses usually cost about $80,000, Willingham said.

The board plans to use the $150,000 they will receive after they submit 25 old buses to Alabama Fleet Renewal Program to repay a portion of the outstanding purchase agreement cost.

“We also have to put in a little of our own local or capital money or other sources we can find within our own funds to make up the difference in what the state’s giving us and what the price of buses cost,” Willingham said.

Willingham met with Jerry Lassiter, the director of transportation with the Alabama Department of Education, in March to discuss the school board’s intentions to purchase buses for the Dallas County School System. Willingham said he plans to meet with Lassiter in January 2015 to get the required state approval to enter another purchasing agreement.

“That way interest rates will be a little bit clearer, our funds will be a little bit clearer and we can start the process to do the specs to put out for bids sometime around May [2015],” Willingham said. “Once the board addresses that, we hope to make the order.”

Willingham said it’s vital that the system continue to pay attention to how often they update their buses.

“At some point if you have all old buses and they all start crashing at the same time, you are really in trouble,” Willingham said. “Stagger out your purchase agreements and always keep just enough buses in stock.”

Willingham said the system is behind in purchasing new buses due to decisions over the past few years by past school board who decided against purchasing new buses.