DIXON — Dixon Public Schools board of education approved a one-year lease payment of $7,909 for a 9-year-old 14-passenger Chevrolet-Collins activity bus.
Before reaching the 7-0 decision, however, the board listened intently to the business manager’s explanation of how the district came close to being short one bus for the 2022-23 school year and then discussed several options, including getting its own fleet of electric vehicles.
The board held its regular April meeting Wednesday at the administrative offices on Franklin Grove Road and devoted considerable time on the issue of the bus lease.
Marc Campbell said the recommendation to lease a 2013 activity bus is being made as a “stop gap for next year” with buses in short supply after General Motors canceled all activity bus manufacturing during the pandemic; meaning there are no new 2022 models available.
A look at the Midwest Transit Equipment website showed that it had five of the 2013-model activity buses for sale, ranging in price from $17,500 to $23,000.
Campbell conveyed a discussion he had with Athletics Director Jared Shaner, who stressed the importance of having two activity buses. On most days, the district has two of the buses in use, ferrying high school students to activities and sporting events.
The lease on one of the school’s existing activity bus expires in July 2022, and as a consequence of the supply chain issue, “the vendor is taking the bus away from us.” Campbell told the board the vendor — Midwest Transit Equipment — did not provide the district with a courtesy notification that the lease was up nor offer a right of refusal, which is the normal course. But Campbell admitted he did not bring the matter up with the vendor earlier, either.
The vendor did offer the 2013 vehicle as a replacement, and Campbell urged the board to act promptly to secure it.
Demand is having an effect on prices, Campbell explained. In the past, a new activity bus would have a $10,000 per year lease; now $18,000 per year is standard.
Campbell recommended the following to the board:
- Immediately begin the bidding process for a new activity bus even though it could be February 2023 or later before it is available. “Needless to say we are also looking at other vendor options,” Campbell said.
- Within the next two months, extend the lease of the district’s other 14-passenger bus to a term of five years. Campbell said he expects the supply-chain issues to continue and this action would prevent the vendor from again selling the vehicle out from beneath the district. This action will also enable the district to purchase the vehicle outright after the term of the lease, if it desires.
Before voting, the board members discussed the situation.
Jon Wadsworth asked about the merits of purchasing vehicles instead of using lease agreements.
Melissa Gates asked about the availability of federal funding for green buses that run on alternative power, such as electricity. “They are giving preference to rural districts,” she said.
Campbell said he was aware of the intent, but there has, as yet, not been an official notification from the Illinois State Board of Education as to grant availability. “They are already out there,” Gates said, insistently. " I would like for us to get our own buses and go green in the near future.”
Brandon Rogers asked about the importance of the activity buses.
Superintendent Margo Empen said “they are very instrumental,” noting that in addition to athletics and activities, it provides transportation to the Whiteside Area Career Center for the CEO students and even the board used it to attend a retreat.
She said when she and Shaner first heard about the prospects of not having a second activity bus for the next school year, they “got very worried. They are so important.”
Rogers followed up, asking about the efficiency of activity buses vs. the large yellow school buses.
Empen said, first off, the activity buses don’t require a special license to operate, meaning adult advisers and coaches can also serve as drivers.
Campbell explained that the activity buses do operate with restrictions, including passenger age limits and the fact that they cannot be used to transport students in the daily course of going to and from school.
Empen estimated that it would cost a baseline $255 to use an actual school bus for small-group activities. But Campbell said there were additional expenses for yellow buses, such as time spent at the activity and a differential in weekday vs. weekend pay for drivers.