Ready to Roll – Planning for transportation a major task as school begins today

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ALEEN RATZLAFF
Getting ready for school means putting in some long hours prior to opening day for the district’s maintenance staff.

“Between projects that we have going…and working on transportation, it ends up being a 12-hour day,” said Keith Goossen, director of transportation and maintenance for Unified School District 410.

Goossen’s job requires oversight in three areas: transportation, buildings and grounds.

Responsibilities for transportation include getting vehicles ready, organizing bus routes and assigning drivers for those routes.

John McMinn handles the mechanic services for the district’s 31 vehicles. Included are 10 to 11 cars and vans and about 20 buses, Goossen said.

“Starting at the beginning of summer, he goes through all the buses and services them,” Goossen said.

That includes checking the brakes, windshield and mirrors, and cleaning them up so they are ready for inspection by the Kansas Highway Patrol.

“It’s pretty busy to get them all done,” he said. “We had vehicle inspections on the 28th of July.”

This year’s inspection took a couple of hours.

“It worked out pretty good,” he said, adding that the only item to address was a couple of burned-out bulbs.

“That’s often the case,” he added.

The district has purchased two new 20-passenger buses to its fleet.

“One will be used for the vo-tech route, and the other for special ed,” Goossen said.

This year the district employs 18 drivers-including three new hires-who handle the 13 to 14 routes that run daily, including the one for special education.

“We struggled at first filling the positions for drivers,” he said. “But we got them all filled.

The length of the bus routes differ from 12 miles or so from Lehigh to Hillsboro and back, Goossen said, to the one that takes students from Hillsboro to Florence and back, logging 120 miles-two 60-mile round trips each a day.

The routes will be about the same as last year, he said, as there hasn’t been significant changes in the number or location of students.

“The drivers will change, though,” he said, “because we’ve got three new ones.”

Purchasing fuel is another consideration. Last year the district bought fuel in small lots of 2,000 to 3,000 gallons in order to get some breaks on fluctuating cost, Goossen said.

“We use about 100 gallons of fuel a day,” he said. “We like to use summer-grade fuel until December.”

Goossen, hired in 1982, initially worked alongside his mentor, Lynn Penner, who had a 30-plus-year tenure with the district. Goossen shifts priorities for transportation, maintenance and grounds depending on the time of year.

“In the summertime it’s almost 100 percent buildings and grounds,” he said, “Like now it’s almost 100 percent transportation.”

Goossen said learning to know the students is a part of the job he particularly enjoys.

“Every day brings its challenges to get the work done and the routes and trips covered,” he said.

Board budgets for higher fuel costs

Unified School District allowed for an anticipated rise in fuel costs when planning its 2006-07 budget, Superintendent Gordon Mohn said.

“We really began to take care of that last year, cutting down on the number of buses we took,” Mohn said. “We’re inconveniencing some kids, especially at having to be at basketball games longer, to cut down on the number of vehicles we took. I don’t think we’ll do any more of that.”

Athletic events are scheduled well in advance.

“Most of our athletic contests are contracted already, so they’re going to be difficult to get out of,” said Mohn when asked whether fuel costs will affect activities for this year.

Hoisington is the longest distance for Hillsboro athletes to travel for games and other events.

“It’s 90-plus miles one way,” Mohn said.

Also, the number of miles accumulated for transporting special education students is significant.

“The positive side of our budget is that 80 percent of those costs come back to us in additional state money,” Mohn said. “But that doesn’t mean it isn’t spending money. It’s still tax money, but it doesn’t have as huge an impact on us.”

The district raised its budget line for fuel by nearly $8,000.

“Last year we spent $45,500 on gas. We’d budgeted $62,900 (this year),” he said. “For next year we’ve budgeted $70,500. So that’s about 54 percent above what we spent this year.”

Mohn said that will put the district in pretty good shape.

“We projected gas prices at $3 (per gallon) average,” he said. “Now we don’t pay quite that much. At $3, it’s about $2.75 a gallon for us.”

The district has its gas storage on the facilities grounds.

“We’ll probably buy shorter (than what we’ve done),” he said. “We could buy a lot more than we’re going to buy. We were reading…that one analyst says after Labor Day, they’re going to go down. But who knows?”

Asked about impact on other aspects of the budget, Mohn said the cost of shipping certainly will affect food prices and supplies and utility costs.

“We always build the budget enough so that we can accommodate (price fluctuations),” he said. “I think we’ll be OK there.

“I don’t want to minimize it, but the total number of dollars we spend on fuel compared to our total expenditures is less than (salaries and benefits for) two teachers.

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