Some of the buses in Clarke Community School District need to have their doors closed for good.
“I’m telling you that it if were me, if I had a hold of the checkbook, and I could write the money for it, I’d put six buses in here, and I’d throw away some of those buses,” said Rick Perin, Clarke’s transportation director, during a presentation at an Aug. 12 Clarke School Board meeting. “That’s what I’d do with them, because they scare me to death.”
Perin said none of the buses currently in use are unsafe, and they have been well-maintained by the previous transportation director. However, problems with the buses do arise because of age, rust and acquiring replacement parts.
Perin became the school’s new transportation director July 1. Many local bus drivers attended the school-board meeting in support of Perin.
Clarke has 16 yellow route buses, five yellow activity buses and one yellow extra bus.
The one yellow extra bus is No. 19, and it is 25 years old.
Clarke transportation covered 220,000 miles last year and activities covered 100,000 miles.
One of Clarke’s route buses, No. 15, was wrecked in a motor-vehicle accident in April on Highway 34 and has not been replaced.
The average age of Clarke’s bus fleet is 12 years. The average miles on buses, excluding six buses, is 110,000 miles.
As for the six excluded buses, Perin said, “Those are old buses, and we didn’t want to use those in with it to give you an exact thought on that because those buses, I feel, are going to be needed to be taken out of service.”
Each bus travels approximately 15,000 miles a year. Half of the fleet are gasoline engine and the other half are diesel.
By state law, a school’s transportation fleet is inspected two times a year. Clarke’s fleet has grown older and requires increasing upkeep to pass inspection.
“In communicating with other transportation directors, it seems that we’re at a point of about 12 years would be a good place for an average of buses,” Perin said. “And, we have exceeded that on some of these buses.”
Of Clarke’s 16 yellow route buses, not including the wrecked one, 10 are at least 12 years old or older. This isn’t including 25-year-old bus, No. 19, either.
“My biggest fear is this, I don’t want to have an April incident with a bus that’s 19 years old because I don’t know how that bus is going to hold up,” Perin said.
There are six Clarke buses that have high mileage and are the district’s oldest buses.
Currently, bus No. 6 is broken down and will cost between $6,000 and $7,000 to repair.
“(No.) 19 is the pride and joy of the fleet … now, in my opinion, that says a lot for what a school bus can do and what you can make a school bus do,” Perin said.
Bus No. 19 is now for emergency use and will not be used in school routes.
“I can’t allow it to go out,” Perin said. “We have some issues with the front axle on it. So, before this bus can go back on routes, the front axle’s going to have to be repaired.”
Rust is developing on several of the older buses. During the upcoming fall inspection, state inspectors will be looking at a step on bus No. 2 and could declare it “unusual.”
“So, buses can be repaired,” Perin said. “The key is, they need to be safe. They need to be dependable. The last thing we need is something breaking down out in the country when it’s cold or hot and we can’t supply another bus.”
In his presentation, Perin wrote “to maintain a safe environment and timely schedule for routes and activities, used or new buses will need to be purchased for this school year. By leaving the fleet in its current state, activity buses would need to be placed in route service, leaving buses short by at least two. This could cause a disruption in transportation for activities.”
The last new bus Clarke bought, which is No. 7, was purchased in 2007.
A comment was made that the school district needs to be replacing buses every two years in order to keep up a rotation schedule.
“Somewhere, if you go back in the board minutes, that was decided years ago,” said Tom Murr, who has driven school buses for Clarke.
However, one of the reasons Clarke hasn’t followed through with replacing buses every two years is because of urea, a chemical compound, emissions from the vehicles.
During the meeting, Clarke Superintendent Benita Gonzales was asked her thoughts on the bus issue.
“Safety, to me, is the most important thing, and taking a look at the age of our fleet, it seems to me that we need to make a move,” she said. “We need to get on to schedule, as to whatever we’re going to do.”
Gonzales added, if a bus is bought used, it has already lost three to four years of its life and has put on mileage.
Clarke School Board President Gerard Linskens encouraged Perin and Gonzales to work together to find a plan of action.
“We haven’t bought buses for awhile,” Gonzales said. “I think we’re in a position we need to start moving in that direction.”