Given that the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in job loss and a sharp economic downturn, it may seem inappropriate for Wauseon Exempted Village Schools to purchase two school buses for about $180,000.
Superintendent Troy Armstrong is aware of the awkward timing. However, he said, it’s a matter of striking while state and grant assistance is hot.
He’s referring to Ohio House Bill 166, which in the latter part of 2019 offered the state’s school districts the opportunity to share $20 million in funds specifically earmarked to purchase new school buses. “It recognized that Ohio’s fleet of buses are aging to a point where school districts need assistance,” Armstrong said.
Wauseon schools, which apply annually for state school bus funding in anticipation of monies possibly becoming available, was awarded $53,990.22 through the bill for that purpose.
Additionally, the school district received a Diesel Grant for $20,000 through the Environmental Protection Agency to purchase a replacement for one of the older diesel buses the district still uses.
The funding from both sources, which cannot be combined, will offset the approximately $90,000 cost of each new school bus being purchased. The remaining cost of each will be paid with money designated for bus purchases through either the school district’s general fund or capital improvement fund.
Armstrong said the process of purchasing two buses through the available sources of financial assistance began last year, and is now coming to fruition. The money awarded from Ohio House Bill 166 must be used by June 30, 2021.
Specifications for the school buses have been forwarded to Indiana-based Cardinal Buses. The new buses may hit Wauseon streets as soon as May.
Armstrong said it would be understandable if community members questioned why new school buses were purchased during the economic downturn caused by coronavirus.
“I want people to understand that, during this COVID-19 pandemic, we have to continue to function because kids are going to come back to school, and we have to continue these processes we began through the bill and through the grant,” he said.
Despite the timing, the opportunity the state legislation and the EPA grant offered could not be overlooked, Armstrong said. He added, “We’re buying the buses because we got the incentives. If we don’t take advantage the state takes it back and allocates it to another school district.”
Wauseon schools currently have a fleet of 19 buses, with models ranging from 1998 to 2020. The 2020 model is a Bluebird bus purchased last fall to replace the fleet’s oldest, a 1984 model. That bus was among five auctioned off for scrap last year. The only operational bus among those scrapped was purchased for use in Honduras.
Until the current purchases, none of the other scrapped buses had been replaced. Armstrong said no other school bus purchases are planned this year.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.