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Couch considers bus route merger

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Couch School Board approved trading in two old buses Monday, Jan. 10, to buy a new International bus for the start of the 2011-12 school year.

Reducing the bus fleet will also mean consolidating the district's four bus routes into three by next August, Superintendent William "Tom" Bull said.

Bull said Missouri school districts have been warned not to expect any transportation funding from the state next year. This year, the district will receive $28,000 to $30,000 to offset it's transportation costs, now running about $102,000 annually.

Across the country, school districts, particularly in urban areas, have cut bus services, Bull said, with some charging students per ride or increasing the distance from school for free rides.

The state has traditionally reimbursed districts for students living at least one mile from school.

Some districts have extended the free-ride distance to three and a half miles, Bull said.

In those districts, students living within the three-and-a-half-mile barrier must pay for rides or find other transportation.

Bull said he has not considered that option yet for Couch, as all but one student live more than a mile from the school.

"If we don't run buses, we won't have kids in school," Bull told the board. "We don't have a choice."

Couch schools, on Highway 142 about 12 miles east of Thayer, have an enrollment of 225 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Of the two buses the district will retain, one will be paid off this spring; the other will be paid for in three years.

The new loan of $55,328, at 3.95-percent interest, will be for five years for the 2012 International 65-passenger bus.

Bull presented bids that ranged from that low figure to a high of $63,912 for a 2012 Bluebird 65-passenger bus. All prices were after trading in the two old buses.

The International bid allows the district a total of $19,500 for trade-ins, which Bull said is considerably higher than usual.

"We used to get $1,000 for an old bus," he said.

Bull predicts the price jump is because both buses have Cat motors, now discontinued.

For about $4,000 more ($59,439), the district could have bought a used 71-passenger International bus, which would have been nice for event trips, but not practical for daily routes, Bull said.

The board also rejected bids for buses with Cummins engines requiring diesel exhaust fluid (a combination of urea and purified water) to be added.

In other business

* The board rejected the sole bid of $75 for several surplus heaters and air-conditioners and one lawnmower. The board agreed to try to sell the units individually.

* The board approved the A-Plus partnership plan presented by A-Plus coordinator Amber Howerton. The changes will affect current freshmen, but not upperclassmen, Howerton said. By 2013-14, A-Plus students must pass the Algebra I end-of-course exam to be eligible for the program, which pays tuition at two-year community colleges for students meeting A-Plus requirements.

* The board heard from Principal Russell Deckard that attendance for the first semester averaged 96.7 percent.

* Bull said he still is calling contractors to give estimates to build a metal bus barn. So far, only contractor Jim Underwood has viewed the site.

* The board approved contracting with Windstream for the district's Internet and e-mail service this year for $3,427. MOREnet provided a bid of $8,450.

* In closed session, the board evaluated the principal and considered the superintendent's contract.

Next meeting

The Couch School Board will meet at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 14, in the school library.

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