May 21 ballot includes school bus purchase proposition

This year’s school budget ballot will include a school bus purchase proposition. On the ballot, voters will be asked to authorize the purchase of six school buses as part of the district’s long-term replacement plan.

The buses include five 71-passenger buses and one 71-passenger bus with a cargo compartment. The total purchase would not exceed $1,201,885. This proposition authorizes the district to issue debt for the bus purchase and is not in addition to the proposed budget, as the financing is already factored in.

If voters approve the proposition, the state would reimburse the district over a five-year period for approximately 75% of the cost. Local property taxes would pay the remainder of the cost, which means residents would be responsible for approximately $60,575 annually for five years beginning in the 2025-26 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. The replacement plan helps maintain a safe and efficient bus fleet. All school buses in New York State are subject to inspection by the New York State Department of Transportation. If a bus does not pass inspection, it cannot be used and the defect must be repaired or the bus replaced.

F-M’s bus fleet is comprised of 64 buses. The district is required by the state to have enough buses to transport every student in the district in the event of an emergency, regardless of the number of students who walk or receive parent/guardian transportation to school.

The buses included in the proposition are diesel and would 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.

If the bus purchasing proposition is defeated, no new buses, diesel or electric, will be purchased by the district. The district would need to continue utilizing its oldest and least efficient buses for another year, which could require more costly repairs to maintain the fleet.

District continues to research electric buses

District officials have been preparing for the transition to electric buses since 2022, when the state enacted the mandate.

In December 2022, F-M hosted an electric bus informational session, which was attended by school district leaders from across Central New York. In 2023, National Grid completed a “Fleet Assessment” to evaluate the district’s current electrical infrastructure capacity. Most recently, the district hosted a community Electric Bus Town Hall in October 2023 to provide district stakeholders with updated information on the purchase of electric school buses.

The district estimates the cost of a 71-passenger electric bus to be approximately $509,000 (without additional funding), more than two and a half times the cost of the district’s current diesel buses of similar size, priced at approximately $200,000. The district would also need to purchase charging stations, estimated at $2 million (without additional funding) to service an entire electric fleet at F-M.

At this time, F-M does not qualify for need-based funding, and is not eligible for most funding opportunities from New York School Bus Incentive Program.

In addition to the expense of electric buses, other challenges facing the district include:

  • Insufficient electrical infrastructure to power charging stations
  • Insufficient space at the bus garage to incorporate charging stations
  • Battery/mileage limitations – a fleet and route analysis study conducted by a third-party, Polara, determined that 63% of F-M’s bus routes (32 out of a total of 51 routes) are feasible for electric vehicles. To attain 100% feasibility, the district would need to increase its fleet size.
  • Cold climate constraints – charging capacity is severely limited when temperatures dip below 32 degrees

The district continues to conduct research and plans to gather more information on funding and grant options to minimize taxpayer impact for future electric bus purchases.