Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

School district saves big time on buses

A new approach to retiring old vehicles is paying off

Wahkiakum School District is improving their bus fleet one at a time thanks to a depreciation program, and it is paying off in surprising ways.

“Our maintenance costs are down significantly,” Superintendent Brent Freeman said. “My first year here, we had 14 or 15 buses on hand. The lowest mileage bus we had was about 57,000- 58,000 miles and [mileage for] half of the fleet was over 200,000 miles. The first time I met Calvin he was under a bus repairing a transmission.”

“We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars,” Freeman said. “We’re not doing that now.

Calvin Grasseth is the transportation director for the district and he was on hand at Tuesday’s school board meeting to give an update on school’s fleet.

The district is currently awaiting another new bus, he said, but it’s been delayed. When it arrives, they will have seven buses on the depreciation schedule, in which the state reimburses the school district for the cost of a bus each year, for the first 13 years of the life of each bus.

“What vehicle have you ever got paid back 100 percent of what you paid for it over a period of time?” Grasseth asked.

It happens some years in the program.

The new vehicles move in and the older ones move to a spare bus position, he said, and then to a trade-in or sell position.

“We are rotating them as they come to us, and the old ones out,” he said. Once upon a time, he saw mileages at 200,000 and over. Now he is seeing mileage around 100,000. Sometimes lower.

The newer vehicles are saving the district money in maintenance, but the new technology they are seeing is also making it safer for the kids they are transporting as well.

Grasseth offered an AI braking system as an example.

“If we get too close, it will put the brakes on for us,” he said. “We never want to use it as I told my drivers, but it’s good to have that feature. Distraction is the number one reason why accidents usually happen.”

Freeman said that school districts are continuing to talk to legislators about fully funding transportation, but was pleased that they were already seeing improvement through the program.

“We’re pretty good,” he said. “We’re so much better now than we were three or four years ago.”

They are looking for any kind of efficiencies. Another thing they’ve done is join an ESD 112 transportation cooperative, which is saving the district a lot of money transporting students into Longview.

During a recent audit, Freeman said they learned that a couple positions at the district were not in compliance with the state as far as how they were paid, which the board remedied on Tuesday.

Because of excessive paperwork, the Business Manager and the Human Resources/Payroll people were generating a lot of overtime.

All the overtime hours, Freeman explained, was time completing paperwork for the district, including an audit this year.

“People have to understand, small schools get the same amount of paperwork as enormous schools without the staffing to do it and that’s where the overtime hours come,” School Director Patty Anderson said.

In order to be compliant, the board agreed to raise the salary for the HR/PR position to $76,500 and the Business Manager salary to $79,000, effective January 1, 2024.

The board talked about a recent Washington State School Director’s Association conference they attended in Bellevue, remarking on all the appreciation they received from that community for the district’s lawsuit, despite the ultimate dismissal from the Washington State Supreme Court.

“Even the large schools appreciate the focus we brought to the inequities,” Director Bobbie Stefan said.

Freeman announced that Wahkiakum would be shifting to 1B classification for sports next year, noting that the matter would be finalized in December.

He said that he and the district’s Athletic Director Rob Garrett agreed it is good for the kids.

The superintendent shared a memory of a football game against Kalama a couple years back.

The Mules had only 18 kids playing that year. Eleven were on the field, and a couple on the sidelines were injured.

They were playing against a 300 pound second string line, Freeman said, and there were 80 kids on the other sideline.

“There is a safety piece to this,” Freeman said.

“Sometimes you are playing eighth graders and freshman against seasoned teams just because you are trying to build a team,” Anderson added.

This was the final school board meeting for outgoing Director Paula Culbertson.

“What an honor it’s been,” Director Shawn Merz told Culbertson.

“I’ll be out there skulking around,” Culbertson joked. “Thank you guys. I think people, until you get involved, don’t understand how a school board works. They have certain images of it. When you get into it and find out, it’s very complicated and it can be very rewarding. Thank you very much.”

Matt Mogush was approved as the new high school baseball coach, and the board accepted a resignation from teacher Marc Niemeyer, who will remain at the district as a coach.


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