Los Banos Unified dealing with an aging fleet

cpride@losbanosenterprise.comJuly 25, 2014 

DW bus barn1

School buses go through an annual inspection and certification process. Installing a new tire on a 16-year-old bus in the Los Banos Unified School District’s bus barn is mechanic John Rhodes, a 24-year veteran of the district.

DAVID WITTE — dwitte@losbanosenterprise.com Buy Photo

Another school year begins soon, and the buses that will transport hundreds of students to classes will be another year older.

The Los Banos Unified School District has five buses that are more than 20 years old and two over 30. The California Highway Patrol, which is responsible for the annual inspection and certification of those buses, is pressing for upgrades.

“We’ve had bumps in the road with our transportation rating,” said schools Superintendent Steve Tietjen. “There’s kind of a pressure statewide from CHP to have districts renew their fleet to get some of the old buses out that are beyond the 20-year limit that used to be the standard.”

Tietjen said he plans to ask the school board possibly next month to approve five-year leases of six new buses at a cost of about $1 million. The money will come from extra funding the district receives through Gov. Jerry Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula for schools.

“The good news is that the state budget is a little healthier, so we can absorb this,” Tietjen said.

Trustee Dennis Areias wants to ensure the district’s fleet doesn’t become too outdated.

“I’d like to make a recommendation that we do the same thing we did with our Suburbans and cars we had at the district. When they reach a certain mileage or number of years, we automatically replace them. We’re dealing with children and we don’t need to be parked on the side of the road because we’re running a 30-year-old bus.”

Tietjen said the district has some buses that can only be driven 1,000 miles per year because they do not have the required catalytic converters.

Despite having a number of older buses in the district’s fleet, Tietjen said parents can be assured their children are safe.

“Our buses are maintained in a way so kids are not put at risk,” Tietjen said.

He said buses are routinely inspected and if problems are discovered, they are immediately taken out of service until the issue is fixed.

Tietjen compared the older buses to cars.

“I’ve had 20-year-old cars that still run, but they aren’t as comfortable as a new car, they don’t get the same gas mileage,” he said.

Monday, Tietjen visited a dealership in Woodland that specializes in school buses. He said the models the district is interested in start at $189,000 before taxes. Tietjen said of the six buses he will propose the district lease, four will hold 82 passengers, one will hold 36 passengers and two wheelchairs, and one will hold 28 passengers and two wheelchairs. All of the buses will have seat belts, which has been the law for school buses in California since 2010.

Reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 826-3831 ext. 6563 or by email at cpride@losbanosenterprise.com.

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