County School Board votes to transition to air conditioned school buses

Pictured above is DeKalb County Transportation Supervisor Keith Atchley during last Friday’s DeKalb County Board of Education meeting.

The DeKalb County Board of Education board unanimously approved initiating the transition to air conditioning school buses last week.

DeKalb County Transportation Supervisor Keith Atchley briefed attendees on the bus contract situation that emerged with buses ordered.

This past spring, they ordered 14 buses from South Lane International Bus Company, that included several special needs buses.

Atchley said state law requires special needs buses to be outfitted with air conditioning. However, the other 10 buses were not expected to have air conditioning.

“The stock buses they had already ordered, we were getting at a discounted price before metal jumped through the roof,” he said. “Well, when they ordered those buses, they came to us equipped with air conditioning.”

The company gave the system the option to retain the buses at a reduced price.

“We had been contemplating transitioning to air conditioning buses once we got out fleet renewal funds closer to 100%,” said Atchley. “So once we got our fleet renewal numbers higher, as leadership had discussed, we were thinking that would be the time to transition to air conditioning buses.”

As a general rule, a school bus has a reasonably useful life of about 10 years, as recent reports reveal public school buses in Alabama cover more than 350,00 miles each day.

Per the Alabama State Department of Education, Alabama’s “fleet renewal program” provides an annual cash allocation per bus so that, in theory, the allocated funds would pay for a bus over its expected 10-year life.

The Legislature sets the amount allocated as part of the Education Budget. Atchley said the state would provide $7,100 for FY 2023.

“With this opportunity that’s fallen in our lap, we have the opportunity to move at about a $2,000 per bus discounted price to air conditioning,” he said. “We’ve been working with South Lane International, and they dropped the price an additional $500.”

Atchley said the buses are sitting in Birmingham, ready to be delivered.

If the board decided to reorder stock buses, he said the bill date is about 300 days out, meaning it would take almost a year for them to come.

“We would get credit for fleet renewal, but we are pushing that back for almost a year,” said Atchley. “I’ve been talking to Mr. Lyles about the transition and what it would take. We feel like this is a great opportunity to move in that direction.”

In the early stages of Alabama’s “fleet renewal program,” State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey said many Alabama buses do not have air conditioning, as the education department looked to change the amount given to each school system.

“We are one of the few systems in north Alabama that has not begun transitioning to air conditioning buses, but we feel like this might be the right opportunity,” said Atchley.

Last Friday, the DeKalb County Board of Education unanimously accepted transitioning to the air conditioning buses at an additional cost.

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