Beach schools add aging bus fleet to its budget priorities

Virginia Beach Public Schools officials say the district needs to do more to update its aging bus fleet.

The district has 750 buses that carry about 43,000 students, and 129 of those vehicles are older than their recommended 15-year life span, according to John “Jay” Cotthaus, director of transportation for Virginia Beach Schools. Older buses cost more to maintain, but Cotthaus said his main concern is safety.

129 of Virginia Beach School buses need replacing. (Courtesy of Virginia Beach Public Schools)
Virginia Beach Schools officials say 129 of their buses need replacing. (Courtesy of Virginia Beach Public Schools)

It costs about $100,000 to replace a school bus, according to the school district’s chief financial officer, Farrell Hanzaker. Superintendent Aaron Spence told the School Board at a meeting earlier this month that he wants to include enough money in next year’s budget to replace 25 of those 129 old buses.

“I’ll just use the opportunity again to give a shout out to our folk, our maintenance folks, our school transportation people who do an incredible job of keeping buses on the road past their life cycles,” Spence said.

Cotthaus said older buses do not have some of the safety features that come with newer models. For example, he said, the seats on newer models are closer together, making it less likely for passengers to be thrown from their seats during an accident.

They are also more expensive to keep on the road because of the parts, materials and labor they require, he said. He estimated that it costs $2.70 per mile to keep a 1999 bus on the road, compared with $0.63 per mile for a bus from 2015.

The school district has been replacing fewer buses in recent years as it tries to balance its budget with an overall reduction in spending per pupil.

Spence said that must change. He said he wants to get more money in the budget for buses and return to a consistent replacement cycle.

Said Cotthaus: “Everybody thinks about the classroom – no one thinks about the buses until they don’t show up.”

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