Officials at Kingston Public Schools say the 10 new buses in circulation this year show the school board’s commitment to safe, comfortable transportation. Through a combination of lease and lease-purchase agreements, Kingston Public Schools acquired the new buses to upgrade its aging fleet. Transportation Director Steve Johnson said the purchase was a welcome addition. “We definitely needed them,” Johnson said. “Some of our buses were getting pretty old and we were having to work on them a lot.”
The cost to the school will be about $155, 000 per year. At the end of three years, the school will own two buses and will send the other eight buses back. Plans are to enter into another combination of lease and lease-purchase at that point, and to continue that practice to keep the fleet up to date. There are several aspects of the latest wave of purchases that are unprecedented at Kingston. One new twist is that eight of the new vehicles were obtained through an outright lease.
The school is leasing the buses from Ross Transportation of Oklahoma City. While the school will not own the coaches at the end of the contract period, Johnson said there are numerous advantages to the arrangement, not the least of which is a full-service maintenance agreement, which takes pressure off of mechanic Ronald Ellis. “The maintenance contract is fantastic,” Johnson said. “It covers tires, oil changes, everything. We had a minor problem the first week and they sent a mechanic right down here on a Saturday.”
The lease agreement also allowed the district to replace more buses at one time than they would have been able to through an outright sale, or even a lease-purchase. The remaining two buses were bought from Ross through a lease-purchase arrangement. While the upkeep on the wagons falls to the school, they will become the property of the district at the end of the lease period.
Another unique aspect to the purchases is that all 10 of the buses are air conditioned, the first time the district has taken that step. That means 10 of the district’s 15 routes have air conditioned buses. The decision to put forth the additional dollars for air conditioning was not taken lightly.
Board members discussed that portion of the arrangement at length before deciding that the feature would be a worthwhile expense. “Safety for our students is always the first priority when purchasing buses,” Superintendent Jay McAdams said. “The air conditioned buses are yet another example of student safety that the board took into consideration due to the extreme weather in Oklahoma.”
Veteran bus driver Barbara Pruitt is also a teacher, and she believes that having students arrive at school cool and comfortable helps to create a more positive learning environnment. “I think it makes a big difference,” Pruitt said. “We start school in August, and it’s pretty hot, even in the mornings. When the kids get off the bus and they’re all miserable and sweaty and sticky, it just doesn’t make for a good start to their day.”
Being able to cool the buses is also expected to have a positive effect on discipline on the bus, according to Pruitt, who said the students often become “cranky” when they are uncomfortable.
The bus driver may also be able to concentrate better when she or he is more comfortable. Pruitt said she understands that acquiring 10 new buses was a big step on the part of school board members, and she and other drivers are appreciative. “We are so thankful to them for stepping up and getting us the new buses,” Pruitt said. “We needed them.” The last time new buses were purchased was in 2007, when six new vehicles were bought. Johnson said adding these 10 means that 16 of the district’s 25 buses in regular service are five years older or less. “This is probably the best shape our fleet’s been in in quite a while,” Johnson said. Kingston Public Schools has several unique transportation challenges, particularly for a school district its size.
For one thing, the district operates 15 regular morning and afternoon routes. Comparably sized Tishomingo has six routes, according to McAdams. While Marshall County is the smallest of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, there are only two school districts here, meaning both Kingston and neighboring Madill operate many buses. Additionally, routes tend to be longer in rural areas. Many of Kingston’s bus routes take more than an hour and a half to complete. “We’re spread out,” Johnson said. “We go from Washita Point to Powell, all the way to the state line.” That means more miles and more wear and tear on buses, making it a more difficult job to keep the buses in the prime condition necessary to safely transport children.
Pruitt said the drivers aren’t the only ones who appreciate the new buses. “The kids love them,” Pruitt said. “And I think because they are new, they take more pride in them, and they make a greater effort not to make messes or damage them.”