Northeast Tarrant

Carroll using bond funds to replace charter buses

Carroll officials plan to purchase a total of five activity buses to replace the need to rent charter buses for student travel to distant games and events.
Carroll officials plan to purchase a total of five activity buses to replace the need to rent charter buses for student travel to distant games and events. Courtesy

Carroll athletics and band students soon will have their own activity buses to ride to games instead of district officials having to rent charter buses for longer trips.

At the Oct. 16 board meeting, Carroll trustees approved an expenditure of up to $330,000 — $165,000 each — from bond funds to pay for two activity buses. The Thomas Built buses will be purchased through BuyBoard, a purchasing cooperative used by many Texas school districts and municipalities.

The buses are “kind of a cross between a school bus and a charter bus,” said Julie Thannum, assistant superintendent for board and community relations.

They are equipped with coach seating for longer trips, three-point seatbelts — now required on all new school buses in Texas — 10 DVD monitors, luggage storage underneath and air conditioning. They look more like school buses on the outside because they are built to the same safety standards. Charter buses do not have to meet those requirements, Thannum said.

The buses, which seat 44, can be used by many student groups and teams that need to travel farther away for games and events, Thannum said.

‘Riding the yellow dog’

Carroll tennis coach Corey Aldridge said the activity buses will be a big help to his team, which usually makes annual trips to Lubbock, Abilene, Austin, College Station and Midland.

For most trips, they rent a charter bus to transport 28 players plus a few coaches and team managers. Sometimes they must take a long trip on short notice, as when they advance in playoffs. In those cases, they take a school bus. The school bus has a maximum speed of 60 mph and no place to stow luggage and equipment.

Aldridge said that his team would play last week and a win would advance it to play a few days later in Abilene — not enough notice to get a charter. Luggage and equipment would be on and under seats. He and his players call taking a school bus “riding the yellow dog.”

“They’re not as comfortable for a long haul, and it takes longer,” Aldridge said.

The district’s Capital Needs Planning Committee recommended including five activity buses in the May 2017 bond because they will save funds from daily operations. About $825,000 of the $7.5 million earmarked for transportation would pay for the activity buses.

Last year, officials spent about $75,000 on charter bus rental. Because football and band require more than two buses, administrators expect to save about $45,000 the first year.

“Money for charter buses comes out of the operating budget, which is in deficit mode right now, and the bus purchases will come from the debt service side,” Thannum said. “As a Robin Hood district, any money that we can save on the operational side of the budget by utilizing bond dollars is helpful.”

Activity buses bring a ‘sense of pride’

Districts in metropolitan Fort Worth usually rent charter buses for longer trips, but activity buses are common in areas of the state where teams have to travel great distances for games and activities every week.

Holly Fuller, communications director for Decatur schools, said via email that the district’s six activity buses “have provided a great sense of pride for our UIL extra-curricular students who arrive in wrapped buses. They also offer more comfortable seating and storage for competitions held a long distance from our school.”

The Abilene school district has nine activity buses for 40 to 46 passengers, one for 28 passengers and four for 16 passengers. Abilene High School is in District 3-6A with the four Keller schools, Haltom High School and Weatherford, so its teams must travel long distances each week.

District officials used school buses and charter buses until they purchased their first activity buses five years ago, said Rene McAden, Abilene district transportation director.

“We used to have to pull buses from routes and put all those extra miles on them,” McAden said.

The Carthage school district near the Texas-Louisiana border has six activity buses used for games and field trips, said Jean Thomas, executive assistant for public relations.

“All the children in the district benefit from them,” Thomas said. “We use them a lot.”

More bus purchases soon

Carroll’s first two activity buses should be delivered in about six months; the others will be phased in over the next several years. The vehicles may be wrapped with the Carroll Dragons’ logo, if the cost is not too high; if it’s too pricey, the buses could be a simple black and white, Thannum said.

Two years ago, Carroll officials purchased a 15-passenger activity bus nicknamed “the Dragon Wagon,” which was wrapped in the district logo for about $5,000.

In November, trustees will vote on the purchase of 16 regular school buses: 11 buses seating 77; two 47-passenger buses; and three special-needs buses. A regular 77-passenger bus costs about $100,000.

The bond included $7.5 million for the replacement of 77 buses, which administrators plan to phase in over five years, Thannum said.

About 60 percent of the bus fleet is more than 10 years old, and more than a third of the fleet is 13 to 18 years old.