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Transportation director's new, but bus issues aren't

South Kitsap School District faces a challenge in updating its aging fleet of school buses. - File photo
South Kitsap School District faces a challenge in updating its aging fleet of school buses.
— image credit: File photo

The old desk in the center of the room and the miniature buses are gone.

Jay Rosapepe, South Kitsap School District’s fourth different person to run the transportation department since January, said he wants a more open look.

It perhaps was the simplest task that Rosapepe faces in his position. Scott Logan, who was hired in 2008 from the Chelan School District, left midway through the last school year for a similar position in Highline. Rosapepe said his replacement left from medical reasons, while another filled the role on an interim basis.

But issues with SKSD’s aging bus fleet predates all of them. Rosapepe, who previously held the District 5 position on the school board and was the operations manager at Mason Transit, said the district’s average large bus, which are Type C and D, are 11.3 years old on average, while smaller ones are 6.8.

That is problematic because the state pays for depreciation on larger buses newer than 13 years old and smaller ones 8 years old or less.

Rosapepe said the district has 17 larger buses, including one from 1984 that is not in use, and nine smaller ones that are older than the depreciation schedule table. That means the district does not receive state subsidies for those vehicles.

“It’s something we need to address,” said Rosapepe, adding that the district carried an average of 6,192 students daily during the last school year. “It’s not a surprise to anyone.”

No one can point to when the age of buses became an issue. After all, Rosapepe said the district has had six different transportation directors in the last five years.

“What we’re hoping to do is get some continuity back to the operation so people know what the expectations are, where we’re headed and what we’re trying to do,” said Rosapepe, who lives in the South Kitsap community. “That was one of my selling points. I’m here, I want to be here and I’m invested in the community.”

Ideally, an average large bus in the district would be 6 ½ years old, which could allow SKSD to replace its vehicles at the same rate each year.

“It’s not a perfect world,” Rosapepe said.

He said the older buses are inspected twice yearly and are safe. But the issues extend beyond that and the depreciation schedule.

“I’m concerned about obsolesce and getting spare parts,” Rosapepe said.

Rosapepe, who started on July 22 in SKSD, said he is working with the district’s chief financial operations officer, Sandy Rotella, on the issue.

“Our bus replacement is going to be a huge challenge for us,” Rosapepe said. “We need to figure out how we’re going to address it. I don’t know right now.”

The situation is not helped by the state’s and SKSD’s budget woes. The district faced nearly a $7 million shortfall for the 2011-12 school year that was closed through a variety of reductions. In addition, SKSD has made interest payments of $219,537 since 2007 to buy new buses and will continue to make those through the 2012-13 school year before it drops to $134,144 the following year to complete the loan.

The district could be helped by the state’s new method of funding transportation. The state traditionally has used the crow-flight mile rather than actual miles on pavement to determine funding.

For example, if a student is one-quarter of a crow-flight mile from the school, but an obstruction such as a hill or water makes it a two-mile bus drive, that student does not meet the requirement to be funded by the state.

SKSD does not receive funding for any student who lives less than a mile from their school.

In addition to calculating pavement miles, the state no longer will base funding on just one week this year. Logan, who served on a committee to reform the system told the Independent last year that there were several flaws with the old method. With the count occurring in late September, he said the district was not funded for several programs that begin later.

The previous method also only counted morning riders, which Logan said was problematic for SKSD and others because many parents drive their children to school on their way to work. Some of those students then would ride the school bus home, but were not counted. The new method — with three different counts during the school year — factors both morning and afternoon riders.

But Logan also said this would be a “fact-finding year” and did not anticipate more funding from the state initially.

SKSD traditionally has been funded at 67 percent by the state, but Logan said he expected the new formula to increase that to 97 percent by the 2012-13 school year. He estimated that if his projections come to fruition, the district could save about $1 million that traditionally is allocated from levy money.

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