By Melissa Slager Herald Writer
MUKILTEO — The school district here is asking voters for help replacing some of its oldest buses.
The one-year levy would raise $3 million and help pay for at least 30 new buses, both standard buses and specially equipped buses for students in wheelchairs and with other special needs.
Mukilteo School District last asked voters for help buying buses two decades ago.
“All districts are very careful about going out to the public and asking for money. We try to be responsible about that. It’s gotten to the point, as you can see, that we need a little help … to get us to the standard that we want to be at,” said Cindy Steigerwald, the district’s transportation manager.
Schools must buy buses with their own money before the state will cover some of the costs associated with depreciation. Those state dollars are spread over a decade or more until the buses reach a certain age.
Mukilteo has 105 buses in its fleet. More than one-quarter of those were built before 1997. Fourteen of them are at least 20 years old.
The buses are safe, Steigerwald said. District buses routinely pass Washington State Patrol maintenance inspections; the district has been awarded “Outstanding School Bus Inspection” for 26 consecutive years.
“They are still sound buses,” she said.
But newer buses have several advantages, besides greater dependability. Safety features include larger windshields and better mirrors that catch blind spots during loading and unloading.
Newer buses also produce fewer emissions. “That not only effects our students but it effects our whole community,” Steigerwald said.
If the levy passes, buses would be purchased in two phases over two years.
The state solicits bids from bus manufacturers. Low bids for buses on this year’s market range from $45,222, for a mid-size bus with no wheelchair lift, to $163,608 for a full-size bus with a lift. A typical bus costs about $95,000.
The levy would cost an estimated 26.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or $106 on a $400,000 home.
However, the total tax rate for Mukilteo schools would actually drop — by about $60 for the owner of a $400,000 home — even if the levy is approved.
That’s because the district has paid off much of its bond obligations from a measure voters passed back in 2000 to build Odyssey Elementary School and expand Mariner High School.
In 2012, the tax rate for school measures totaled $4.68 per $1,000 of assessed value. The rate is expected to drop to $4.27 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2013, or to $4.53 per $1,000 if the transportation levy passes.
“It’s not a real complicated thing. It’s just the one-year levy. It’s just in place in 2013 and then it expires,” said Andy Muntz, a district spokesman.
By the numbers
Some key figures for the Mukilteo School District’s transportation department:
1 million: Miles driven each year
8,300: Bus drop-offs made each school day
46: Drop-off locations, including 19 district schools
19: Destinations to pick up homeless students under the McKinney-Vento Act, from Granite Falls to Juanita
8: Destinations to drop off students at special education programs, from Edmonds to Mercer Island
$125,000: Increase in fuel costs for 2011-12
$97,000: Increase in state transportation funding
82: Drivers employed
22: Substitute drivers employed
80: Hours of instruction to become a driver