With the penalty for using coach-style travel buses causing the Challis School District to lose between $53,000 and $68,000 a year for three years now, Transportation Director Blain Aldous said it might be time to switch to a fleet of yellow buses only.
At a public hearing last week, Aldous and Superintendent Lani Rembelski told a group of Challis coaches, parents and board members it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify using coach buses due to decreasing returns on the investments.
Aldous explained the state reimburses school districts at 85 percent for yellow bus activities across all line items in the budget, including gas and oil, salaries and maintenance. State officials consider the activity coach buses non-conforming and therefore unsafe, Aldous said, which means the district doesn’t get reimbursed when the buses are used or purchased.
The penalty for using non-yellow buses that have more signage on them besides the district’s name comes out of the reimbursement, Aldous and Rembelski said.
Using the 2018-19 school year as an example, Rembelski and Aldous said they added the 70,766 miles traveled in yellow buses to the 19,859 miles traveled in coach buses. That translates to the coach buses being used for 21.91 percent of the 90,625 miles logged on district buses. The district’s reimbursement was cut by that percentage.
“It costs us to use them,” Aldous said, referring to not getting reimbursed for the coach buses, “and then it costs us again” when the district gets penalized.
Aldous and Rembelski said the situation can be resolved if the district starts phasing out coach buses in favor of more yellow ones, or district personnel restrict usage of the coach buses.
Among district staffers at the hearing, there was hesitancy to phase out the coach buses. Volleyball coach Debbie Sheppeard said because coach buses are larger and have more storage, they are a more comfortable ride on long trips. That’s advantageous, she said, especially when Challis athletes play other teams that are coming off long trips they arrived at in less comfortable yellow buses.
High school teacher Jennifer Piva wanted to know if the coach buses could be kept and used for special occasions like state tournaments. Riding in a coach bus decked out with Viking red makes the state trip more rewarding, Piva said as one of the former Challis student athletes at the hearing.
Although board members didn’t take any action, Aldous said the district will most likely have to replace its coach buses with yellow ones at some point. Not only would it appease state officials, Aldous said, but it is getting more difficult and expensive to find parts and maintain the district’s activity buses.