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Schools step up replacement of aging bus fleet

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 24, 2002

BROOKSVILLE -- To keep its bus fleet running smoothly, the Hernando County School District had a program to replace five to 10 buses each year.

Sometimes, when the engines faltered, the district would install new ones into the old buses to save money.

But now about half the fleet, or 100 buses, is more than 12 years old, and the School Board must update its buses in a hurry.

Further complicating matters, current and projected growth is forcing the board to increase its total number of buses.

To cope, transportation director Mark Tallent has recommended that the board step up its replacement plan to buy 22 buses per year for the next five years. Board members approved the plan and last week authorized the first purchase for $1.35-million.

The acceleration of the replacement program means that more students will ride in safer buses, board member Robert Wiggins explained. (As a sidelight, the buses also will be air-conditioned, a plus that drivers and students celebrated when the first cooled buses arrived two years ago.)

The district will save money on vehicle repair and maintenance, Wiggins added. In theory, the savings should reduce the district's operating budget, freeing up money for other education matters, he said.

Board Chairman John Druzbick said the new plan had emerged from necessity.

"Some of those buses are so old, we need to replace them," he said. "Because of growth, we are having to buy more buses than we did before. . . . It's just a continuation of the old plan."

Board member Gail David said the board rarely had seen a proposal that planned for five years. So she was pleased to support it.

"That was a long-term goal. I think that's a good thing," she said.

Tallent told the board in a memo that he thought the upgraded bus replacement plan would get the district's transportation needs in order quickly.

After five years, he said, the department will re-evaluate the plan and report back to the board.

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