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Retirement isn’t easy for school buses

Retirement isn’t easy for school buses

Old school buses, like the one pictured above, sometimes get a second chance in service with churches or other organizations.


POSTED August 7, 2009 11:00 p.m.
Yellow school buses are as American as baseball and apple pie. Every morning during the school year these iconic symbols of the academic world roll down streets, lanes, and dirt roads to pick up waiting children. School buses are built to last, and many are still part of a district’s fleet after 30 years of service. But what happens when a school bus is ready to retire? Where do these majestic vehicles go in their twilight years?
That question is one that the Chatom Union School District now faces regarding two of the oldest busses in their fleet. At a July 29 meeting, the district unanimously voted to make the two buses obsolete. That means the vehicles, affectionately known as No. 4 and No. 7, are no longer part of Chatom’s fleet.
When a bus is part of a district fleet, it has to pass rigorous inspections every year. Jeanie Klotzer, transportation manager for Denair Unified School District, said that the California Highway Patrol inspects buses inside and out every school year to make sure that they are in proper working order and meet safety regulations. If any problem is found during the inspection, the bus is red flagged and can not carry students until the problem is fixed. Klotzer said that it is possible for a bus to be so run down that it is taken off of the road permanently by the CHP, but in her 25 years in the Denair district she has never seen that happen.
Denair did get a replacement bus last year through a grant from the State of California. One of stipulations of that grant was that the district could not sell the bus to another public school district. Klotzer said that this practice keeps old buses out of the public school system entirely. She said that if the replacement bus comes from the California Air Resources Board, the bus has to be taken off the road entirely. Those buses are usually crushed or used for scrap metal.
Michelle Fagundes has never retired a bus in her time as transportation supervisor for the Turlock Unified School District. She said that at TUSD, and the last district she worked for, a new bus was usually an addition to a fleet, not a replacement for an older bus.
“We have great mechanics that take good care of (the buses),” Fagundes said.
Georgene Silva, Chatom Union School District transportation supervisor, said at the meeting that neither No. 4 nor No. 7 has been driven for over two years. Her letter to the school district requesting the buses be made obsolete explained that nobody in the district was licensed to drive the two buses because they had standard transmissions. Both buses are 1983 Bluebirds.
“... No. 4 and No. 7 are being kept with the hope of participating in the State’s replacement program,” Silva wrote in her letter to the board.
At the meeting, Silva explained that the two buses no longer qualified for replacement through any program. She said that it cost the district money to keep the buses, because they still had to be inspected and licensed. Now that the buses are obsolete there is no maintenance fee to the district.  
CUSD board members tossed ideas around at the meeting as to what they could do with two obsolete, standard transmission buses. Trustee Rob Santos suggested that the buses could be sold on the Internet. He did a quick Ebay search and found a similar bus selling for just over $300. Other board members suggested scrapping the buses, because the metal might be worth more than the vehicle price.
Superintendent Jack Mayer said that the district decided to sell the buses within the next few weeks. Because the district voluntarily made the buses obsolete, they can choose what to do with them. Offers can be brought to the Chatom Union School District, who will then decide where No. 4 and No. 7 will find a new home.
To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail agoodwin@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.
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