With the meeting room packed full of teachers, the Hays USD 489 school board voted Monday to move forward on purchasing a coach-style activity bus even though such a purchase was not on the schedule for this year.
The teachers attended the meeting in support of ongoing fact-finding in the 2019-20 contract negotiations with the Hays chapter of the Kansas National Education Association.
Accepting bids totaling $283,987 for three route buses was on the agenda for Monday night’s business meeting, and when that item came up for action, board member Greg Schwartz, who did not run for re-election and whose term will be ending when four newly elected board members begin their term in January, made a motion to amend the proposal.
“I know it was brought up in a board memo, but I still think we ought to move forward with the purchase of the coach bus and get that started today versus waiting for next year,” he said.
The district has budgeted $304,000 for bus purchases this year.
Russ Henningsen, director of transportation, said he had only an estimate on what a coach bus would cost — about $250,000.
Great Bend USD 428 purchased two coach buses in January at $217,900 per bus, according to a report in The Great Bend Tribune. The Garden City and Liberal school districts also have coach buses, Henningsen said.
Henningsen said a coach bus is in the five-year plan for upgrading buses in the next year or two, but Schwartz pushed for the purchase to be made this year.
“The longer you wait, the longer it’s going to be before it can be used,” Schwartz said. “If we started it today, the bus can be purchased before the end of the school year and be usable for the next school year.”
Discussion on Schwartz’s amendment quickly morphed to ordering the bus in time to use for track season in the spring.
Henningsen said it would typically take six to eight weeks for the bus to be delivered once ordered. He said he would start immediately in writing specifications to obtain bids and hopefully would be able to present bids at the board’s next meeting on Dec. 16.
The bus could be paid out of capital outlay or the contingency fund, with the cost of the bus being replaced in the fund after the start of the new fiscal year in July, Schwartz said.
Keith Hall, interim executive director of finance, said the district has enough money in either fund to cover the purchase.
“It’s six of one, half dozen of the other,” Schwartz said. “The only risk is if you have an emergency, something that happens between the time we purchase it after the first of the year and July 1, you could potentially have an issue, but there’s still going to be sufficient money.”
District officials and board members had the opportunity last week to view a coach bus on its way to Phillipsburg. The 52-passenger bus would be beneficial, superintendent Ron Wilson said.
“It would be a great bus for the number of miles our students and coaches travel,” he said, with bigger, wider seats and more space. “It’s definitely not plush, but it’s nicer than what we’re currently using in terms of space.”
“It’s similar in nature to what all the (Western Athletic Conference) schools have, and we would have one. Most have two,” Schwartz said. “We’re not going to be some elite school. We’re just going to be somebody that’s equal with everybody else."
But not everybody was ready to get on board with Schwartz’s proposal.
“I’m not really ready to vote on this,” board member Sophia Rose Young said. “I have more questions that I’d have to ask and then think about in regards to the transportation budget and what has been cut from the transportation budget in the past."
However, Schwartz’s amendment was on the floor, and board president Mike Walker soon called for a vote. The amendment passed 4-2 with Young and Luke Oborny voting no. Schwartz, Mandy Fox, Walker and Paul Adams voted yes. Lance Bickle was absent from Monday’s meeting.
With the motion passed, Walker turned the discussion to the original motion, now including Schwartz’s amendment for the coach bus, but Young asked for further clarification.
“Is this a motion to say he can go look, or pre-voting to say he can spend the money to just go buy one? I’d like to at least see bids before we say we’re going to buy one,” she said.
Schwartz said his amendment did instruct to get bids for the coach bus, not just purchase one.
"I think the language is clear that we're approving the purchase of those that were proposed and moving forward with purchasing the other for the end of the year. Yes, we will have to get quotes before we can do that," he said.
After several minutes more of discussion, Young made a motion to amend the now-amended original motion to include language to specify the board was directing Henningsen to obtain bids for the coach bus.
That motion split the board, with Young, Oborny and Adams voting for and Schwartz, Fox and Walker against. A motion must have the majority of the board — four votes — in order to pass.
The board then voted on the original motion with Schwartz’s amendment. It passed 4-2, with Schwartz, Fox, Walker and Adams voting for and Young and Oborny against.