Avoyelles School Board seeks $900K grant to buy 20 propane-fueled buses

If the Avoyelles Parish School Board receives a $1 million grant to purchase new school buses, it will probably use a portion of its year-end surplus to pay off an existing bus note. It would then have to take out a new loan to meet its “matching funds” obligation.

The School Board accepted that Finance Committee recommendation at the board’s Nov. 5 meeting.

At the Oct. 22 Finance Committee meeting, Superintendent Blaine Dauzat re-presented his recommendation to use $500,000 of the district’s remaining $1.2 million 2018-19 surplus to pay off an existing loan that was secured for the district’s last purchase of new buses.

Paying off that note early would save about $32,000 in interest over the remaining life of the loan, Finance Director Mary Bonnette said. Another item on the committee agenda was to discuss applying for a large grant to purchase new buses.

“You need to take that agenda item before you decide on this one,” Bonnette advised.

VW GRANT PROGRAM

The district is applying for a grant from a $19.8 million settlement from Volkswagen to the state. The automobile manufacturer was accused of violating clean air standards.

The settlement fund is to be spent on projects to reduce auto emissions. The program the School Board is interested in would pay half the cost of new propane-fueled school buses.

The board periodically purchases 10 new buses to replace 10 old buses. Un-air conditioned buses cost about $91,000 each. Air conditioned buses would cost almost $11,000 more.

If the district secures the “VW grant,” it plans to purchase 20 buses instead its usual 10 under the bus replacement program. It would take out loan to cover its 50 percent match to secure the grant.

The board was told the grant would basically be a “two-for-one” deal for the district.

The School Board owns the fleet of buses, with 68 of the 119 buses more than 15 years old.

There has been some debate as to whether to start replacing old buses with air conditioned ones, especially with the school year starting in early August.

The arguments are “who decides who gets an air conditioned bus” on one side and “you have to start somewhere” on the other.

If the board receives the grant, it should use part of the surplus to pay off the existing note, Bonnette said, adding that it would not be advantageous to have two active loans at the same time.

If the board’s application is denied, board members would have to decide whether to save the $500,000 to offset a projected deficit for this budget year or spend it to save money on interest.

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