Voters to decide on diesel bus purchases as district continues preparing for electric

On Tuesday, May 16, Fayetteville-Manlius School District residents will decide on a school bus purchasing proposition. If the bus purchasing proposition is defeated, no new buses, diesel or electric, will be purchased by the district.

The proposition asks voters to authorize the purchase of six diesel school buses and if approved, the state would reimburse the district over a five-year period for 75.7% of the cost. Local property taxes would pay the remainder of the cost, which means residents would be responsible for $57,451 annually for five years beginning in the 2024-25 school year.

F-M normally replaces its buses after 10 years, when it is no longer cost effective to make the repairs needed to meet state inspection standards. Maintaining an aging school bus presents potential safety, maintenance and financial issues for the school district. If a bus does not pass inspection, it cannot be used and the defect must be repaired or the bus replaced.

The buses included in the proposition will complete a useful lifespan before the district is required by law to fully transition to a zero-emission fleet by the year 2035. The law also requires all school bus purchases be electric starting July 1, 2027.

The district estimates the cost of a 60+ passenger electric bus to be approximately $475,000, more than double the cost of the district’s current diesel buses of similar size.

At this time, the district does not qualify for existing funding or grants to cover the cost of electric buses, which is prioritized for high-need local educational agencies, rural school districts, Bureau of Indian Affairs-funded school districts and districts that receive basic support payments for children who reside on Native American land.

In addition to the expense of the electric buses, the district is taking into consideration staff training, facilities and potential utility, infrastructure, and travel limitations.

The district’s current bus parking lot does not meet the space requirements to incorporate the charging stations that are necessary for electric buses. According to a representative from Blue Bird, an indoor parking facility provides an ideal storage and charging environment for electric buses that helps extend battery life – something that the district does not have.

Electric buses can travel up to 120 miles on a single charge, but the performance and longevity of electric bus batteries is dependent on topography, weather, charging practices, bus storage and parking configurations, and it is unknown how local factors will contribute to battery degradation. To accommodate long-distance travel outside of the district, such as travel to other districts for sporting events, F-M must consider the availability of the necessary charging infrastructure.

“Despite the challenges and unknowns, the Fayetteville-Manlius Central School District is committed to leading the way in the transition to sustainable technology,” F-M Superintendent of Schools Craig J. Tice said.

In preparation for electric bus purchases, the district hosted an electric bus informational session in December 2022 that was attended by school district leaders from across Central New York.

On March 23, National Grid completed a “Fleet Assessment” to evaluate the current infrastructure’s capacity to deliver sufficient electrical service that would be required to charge an entire fleet of electric buses.

Future planning in preparation for the transition to electric includes developing an electric bus phase-in schedule and a battery pack replacement plan.

“It is an exciting time as the district prepares to transition away from our current transportation modalities, but it requires calculated planning and we’re still in the beginning stages,” said Tice. “The current diesel bus replacement schedule ensures a safe and efficient bus fleet while maintaining the fiscal responsibility owed to the district’s taxpayers.”