School district to purchase new bus

By Shanna Cummings

Culberson County-Allamoore ISD school board members approved the purchase of a new yellow bus to update the district’s aging transportation fleet, in addition to the smaller bus previously purchased that is on route.

“Our buses are getting old,” superintendent Ken Baugh said, mentioning Buses Four and Five in particular. One bus was built in 1998, the other in 2000, and both have high stop-and-go mileage. “These are buses we’re using on routes,” he added. The district has used an old travel bus as a route bus for now, which has worked this school year because of lower numbers of students due to COVID and remote learning. However, if pandemic conditions continue to improve in Culberson County, schools may be completely open next school year, he said, which will require more dependable transportation.

Baugh suggested the 88-passenger model, which includes seat belts, air conditioning and some luggage storage space. It costs the same as a small bus in fuel and maintenance, he said, and can be used for route with larger numbers of riders. The model he proposed would cost nearly $164,000, which he said is par for the bus industry.

Baugh proposed three budget amendments, one of which would free up the necessary funds to purchase the bus. The other two amendments involved distributing the revenue from Chapter 313 tax abatement payments, and shifting $50,000 into the burgeoning dual credit program.

Also in this meeting:

The board heard an update from Baugh about the Chapter 313 tax abatements. The district received $447,000 in tax abatements, $250,000 of which was transferred into the Van Horn Education Foundation to fund the dual enrollment program and assist students participating in it. The rest is used to pay fees for attorney fees ($57,000) and school operations.

Baugh explained the current financial state of the district, emphasizing that the 2016 (originally $30 million) and 2019 (originally $10.5 million) bonds have decreased significantly, to $14.16 million and $2.76 million, respectively. “That is a major coup on our part,” he said told board members. The district will have almost $18 million in its I&S fund balance next year, which will improve tax and interest rates, as well as bond and business ratings, should the board choose to take out another bond.

The board also approved renewal of Baugh’s contract, and agreed to look into adding the cost of district employee health insurance to his salary as incentive.

The board approved an update to a Texas Association of School Boards policy that deals with cybersecurity, student health, and community conduct on school grounds.

The school continues to improve relating to COVID safety, but more than half of parents recently surveyed didn’t yet feel comfortable with mandatory in-person classes. The school will continue to offer remote learning, and consider mandatory in-person classes for next year, if vaccination rates allow. As of the meeting, a staff survey indicated at least 50 percent of staff had received at least the first vaccine shot, and he expected more. Baugh said he hopes to have a live, in-person graduation ceremony this year in the auditorium if it can be done safely, and suggested possibly returning to in-person board meetings as soon as the next meeting, which hasn’t been scheduled yet. The next meeting will take place once the audit has been completed.