Less than a month after the Wilson County Commission approved the 2019-20 budget, Wilson County School officials are looking at requesting an additional $1.1 million for more buses.
The school system is needing 12 more new buses to go along with the five used buses it already hadto help alleviate the pickup and delivery times along routes, according to WCS transportation director Jerry Partlow.
Partlow discussed the need for the additional buses at the WCS work session, which took place before the school board meeting last Thursday.
“I know this is a big number, but last year we added very few routes,” he said.
The additional buses will also allow the buses not to be at capacity each morning and afternoon.
According to the report distributed by Partlow to the board and staff, Carroll-Oakland needs one bus for one new route while Lebanon and Wilson Central high schools, which share some buses, need three buses for new routes. Mt. Juliet High School, Elzie D. Patton Elementary, Mt. Juliet Elementary and West Elementary also need three buses for four new routes.
Gladeville Middle and Rutland Elementary need three buses for six new routes, the report continued. Mt. Juliet Middle, Stoner Creek and Springdale Elementary should have six new routes and three new buses to cover them.
Gladeville Elementary needs one bus to cover one new route and three special needs buses are also needed.
The addition of the buses will allow the transportation department to cover 27 routes, Partlow said.
The cost of the “regular education buses” is $92,463 each for a total of $832,167. The special needs buses cost $101,896 each for a total of $305,688. The total cost of the 12 buses needed is $1,137,855, according to Partlow’s report.
The buses will have to be bid for costs, but Partlow said there is the possibility that the system can use last year’s state bid, which allows school systems to buy buses at that bid amount. It will take approximately eight months to get the buses and train the drivers.
“So, you might not even have them for this year,” board member Mike Gwaltney said.
Partlow acknowledged that fact but stated that the system might be able to purchase some buses at the local Bluebird bus dealership.
In addition to the bus needs and costs, drivers will be needed. Along with that comes salaries. Two drivers are returning to the district and their hiring is underway. New applicants are expected to have completed their training on Sept. 12 and two new applicants have started training and should complete that by mid-October, he said.
Those dates have variables, Partlow said, including availability of trainers, testing and hand-on needs.
“Even if I have someone who comes in and is willing to drive, it still takes a minimum of four weeks, up to six or eight weeks, depending on how much effort they can put in (for training),” Partlow said.
Despite those needs, Partlow said, “we had a very successful kickoff. To tell you we didn’t have problems, would be telling you a story. We’ve already had to put down some routes because drivers were out sick or various reasons. But overall, on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d have to say it was a 9.”
He told the board that the start and end times for the various schools has caused issues.
“We’re having trouble getting buses from Lebanon High School to Wilson Central High School and West Wilson Middle School,” he said.
Partlow said that the growth in the county is one of the main causes for the buses being at capacity. Buses capacities range in numbers, but Partlow said that they are full.
“Whenever I talk to parents and they want to know why the buses are overcrowded, I always tell them we need drivers and equipment,” he said. “Getting the equipment is the easy part. Getting the drivers is the difficult part.”
He added that the bus department has “to make adjustments daily” so that buses are not overcrowded.
In his report, Partlow shared that, between Aug. 19 and Aug. 23, the buses had driven 61,032 miles. They also used the buses stop arm 39,268 times and crossed railroad tracks 3,846 times.
WCS Director Dr. Donna Wright will present the report and request to the full Wilson County Commission at its meeting Sept. 16. The commission will not be able to take action on the issue that night because it has to advertise the budget amendment at least 10 days before the meeting date.