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Buses with new look arrive in South Kitsap School District

Sleek generally is not a word that comes to mind when describing a school bus.

Boxy, bulky and definitely yellow are more apt characterizations.

But the South Kitsap School District will unveil five new buses this week that are far different from their predecessors in appearance. The Type C category buses, which SKSD director of transportation Scott Logan said seat 77 students, were introduced by Thomas Built Buses in 2004 and feature a curved hood comparable with those seen on semi-trailers in addition to raised and tinted windows.

Logan said the hood design enhances visibility for drivers, particularly with small children crossing the street. Elementary-school students are not allowed to lower their windows completely because of safety issues, such as a child falling out of one. Logan said the tinted windows were added at a cost of about $600 per bus to provide more climate control. He said the temperature inside a bus is about 110 degrees when it is 90 outside, and that the tinted windows lower the temperature about 6 to 8 degrees.

Safety is the No. 1 aspect the district evaluates when considering what buses to purchase, but Logan said efficiency is second. While the larger Type D buses traditionally used by the district average around 5 miles per gallon, Logan said the new buses average about 3 miles better.

In addition to that, Logan said the new buses are more cost effective for the district. He said the state bid for a Thomas Built Bus is $85,689, while the Type D buses are $105,585. He said those numbers do not include such upgrades as window tinting.

Logan believes they eventually will become the standard school bus in the district. He said some drivers are apprehensive because the buses “are different than anything they’ve seen before,” but that the situation was similar in the Chelan School District, where he previously worked.

“Once they get used to them, they will want them,” Logan said.

That does not mean the larger buses will disappear from the school district. The Thomas Built Buses do not feature a storage compartment below, which Logan said is ideal for the football team or band traveling a long distance.

Logan said bus expenses are a frequent topic in calls from parents. He said some do not understand why money is spent on transportation instead of books and other school materials. Logan said even if the district’s transportation budget runs at a surplus, money from it, which is funded by the state at approximately 66 percent, cannot be allocated toward other projects.

But he said it also makes sense to keep SKSD’s bus fleet updated. Logan said the state pays for depreciation on larger buses newer than 13 years old and smaller ones 8 years old or less. But a larger bus from 1995, for example, would not receive funding from the state. He said the depreciation payments allow the district in “theory” to replace those buses in that amount of time. It has not always worked that way as SKSD has made interest payments of $219,537 since 2007 and will continue to make those through the 2012-13 school year before it drops to $134,144 the following year to finish the loan.

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