The use of charter buses instead of school buses by Saucon Valley High School’s Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) chapter on an upcoming Hershey trip was called into question by school board member Susan Baxter at the board’s Jan. 28 meeting.
Baxter brought the subject up during the board’s discussion of upcoming travel expenses, which must be approved by the school board.
The FBLA students are traveling to Hershey for a competition at the Hershey Lodge.
“This is the first year that transportation amount of $2,300 is being included. I did question that and…I was told that this was placed into the budget,” she said. “It does not necessarily match the procedures we have put in place regarding transporting of students, and we send many students to Hershey, so we have to be very careful about opening up the line of charter buses to Hershey.”
In the future, Baxter said that she would like the board to be apprised of any new travel expenses of $1,000 or more ahead of time.
“I’m personally in favor of using our own school buses to go out to Hershey rather than hiring a charter bus, so I will be voting ‘no’ for this,” she said.
Superintendent Dr. Craig Butler responded to Baxter’s line of questioning about the buses. He also said the idea to alert the board to new travel expenses of more than $1,000 is a good one.
“We have used school buses, thank you Ms. Baxter, the two previous years I’ve been in the district,” he said. “It was reported to me and suggested that we do not use school buses this year because the only buses in the district that would have the undercarriage capacity to carry all of the luggage, if you will, that the students have to take on this particular trip…are older buses.”
“Last year…we had a bus break down on the way back,” he explained. “We had students stranded, or held up, as a result of waiting for another bus to come pick them up. It was a bit of a difficult situation that caused us to pause and look at our decision about taking school buses 90 miles one way.”
Baxter said he conferred with high school principal Tamara Gary, business manager David Bonenberger and other administrators in making the recommendation to use charter buses.
“It is during the school day. We don’t have enough drivers to drive currently,” Bonenberger told Baxter. “I’m short-staffed. I’ve got mechanics driving. I’ve got the secretaries driving. I’ve got custodians driving. I can’t take those buses out and use our drivers, because we don’t have (the drivers) at this time.”
He added that sports will also impact the availability of drivers when those buses would be needed.
“Are we looking for more bus drivers?” Baxter asked.
“We’re always looking for more bus drivers,” Bonenberger confirmed. “But everybody is at this point.”
“I would love to take school buses. I wish we could,” Butler said. “If it wasn’t for the depletion of the fleet and our newer buses being able to have that undercarriage storage I would be most pleased to use the school bus option.”
Baxter then asked why new buses aren’t being purchased with undercarriage storage.
Bonenberger said that it’s because of a clearance issue. Particularly in bad weather and when making turns, the buses can be damaged due to their low clearance, he said.
When board president Shamim Pakzad called for a vote on whether to approve the use of the charter buses, the vote to use them passed 7-2, with Baxter and board member Bryan Eichfeld voting against it.
Click here to watch a video recording of the meeting on YouTube.
The next Saucon Valley School Board meeting will be held Tuesday, Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. in the high school Audion room. Meetings are open to the public and are also livestreamed on YouTube via a link on the school board agenda page of the school district website.