When Bigfork High School traded in its activity bus for a brand new one this year during a time of budget cuts it raised a few concerns from tax payers in town, but according to those at the school’s district office it really shouldn’t as it didn’t cost tax payers a dime.
Funds for the bus came from the debt service fund, not the transportation fund. Schools are allowed to depreciate the value of their buses annually and levy that amount. They use that account for things like bus maintenance and to buy new busses when needed. The transportation fund can only be used for yellow school buses transporting students to and from school. Expenses from other uses such as field trips and activities come out of the general fund.
This year, not unlike many other years, Bigfork schools did not depreciate any of its buses and therefore didn’t levy anything. Part of the reason the district decided to do this was that there was already enough money in the account. In fact, there was enough to trade in the old activity bus for a new one and still have enough in the account to purchase a yellow school bus if that need arose.
“We want to work hard to keep those tax dollars as low as we can and still keep the vehicles that transport our students safe,” said Bigfork School District business manager Eda Taylor.
Schools are allowed to use money from the debt service fund to replace an activity bus, but may not use the money to add an additional bus or purchase a first activity bus.
“Funds at what they can be used for are very specific,” Taylor said. “(For example,) it’s the general fund that pays for education needs like classroom teachers.”
Bigfork bought its first activity bus mostly through donations and money from the general fund. At the time it was one of the only Class A schools in the state that did not have an activity bus. The school purchased a heavily used activity bus at that time to get its foot in the door with the trade-in option. Two years later the school upgraded to a nicer, though still used, activity bus using the debt service fund.
When the school traded that bus in over the summer it had a trade-in value of $30,000 and the district opted to purchase the high school its first brand new activity bus for an additional $123,500.
The decision to purchase the new activity bus was not initiated based on the fact that there was money available for it. The former bus was in continual need of repair and was costing the district money, and sometimes causing safety concerns.
“We wanted to make sure that we were putting our kids who were traveling for several hours on a bus that was safe and wouldn’t have problems,” said Bigfork superintendent Dr. Cynthia Clary. “The old bus was getting to a point where it was starting to have a lot of issues.”
In addition to the fact that the new bus will not be as likely to cost the school money for repairs, it will also be better for the environment. The new activity bus is the first bus that Bigfork schools has purchased that is in line with the new federal emission laws that came out in 2010.
Although a lot of schools have purchased over-sized coach buses in recent years, Bigfork schools decided to go with a simpler model as it has with the past two activity buses, which are upgraded yellow school buses with different paint jobs and decals. Although the activity busses have nicer seats and a DVD player with multiple monitors.
“It’s a good compromise because it’s a nice comfortable bus, but it isn’t over the top,” said transportation director Reenie Clock. “Also, because it is a Blue Bird bus we can do the maintenance ourselves, which also saves money.”
There are very few feature changes to note between the former bus and the new one. The over seat luggage area is in a slightly different rack style and it provides individual lights for passengers that weren’t available on the previous bus. The new bus seats 47 people, which is three more than the old bus. Also, because it is a newer model it has a curved windshield and mirrors in slightly different positions for better visibility.