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School purchases 2 new buses, seeks other equipment

The Three Forks School Board approved the purchase of two new school buses and tabled discussion on whether or not to purchase grounds maintenance equipment during its Aug. 16 meeting.

The new buses will cost the district approximately $225,000. The district plans to supplement the cost of the two buses by trading in three from its current fleet for $86,100, leaving a $138,500 bill for the district to cover.

Three Forks School District Superintendent Rhonda Uthlaut said the district could cover the cost using funds in the transportation account and the extra income from the depreciation fund added by the new buses.

“All our buses would be updated to basically new,” Three Forks Transportation Manager Craig Potts said.

Two of the three buses approved for trade-in have “depreciated out,” while the third bus has given the school quite a headache. When the district purchased the third bus in 2019 with no warranty, they were unaware that its rear-end pusher motor made it unsuitable for gravel roads. Four radiator replacements later, Potts is ready for a change.

“I either keep getting it repaired all the time, or we discard it now,” Potts told the board. “It’s a good built bus, but it’s really good at throwing rocks into the radiator.”

Currently, the bus only has 25,000 miles, which Potts said have accumulated mostly from driving it to and from repairs.

The new buses will include warranties, much to Potts’ and the district’s relief.

Trustees voiced concerns that by trading three buse for two, they would be short a bus and be limited in the number of routes they could fill. Potts assured the board that the trade would leave the district with two spare buses. “Long story short, we have more than enough buses for all of our routes,” Potts said, adding that the district’s lack of drivers prevents them from adding routes anyways.

Currently, the district has three bus routes and hopes to have five. After the trade-in, the district’s fleet will contain 6 buses.

Potts also approached the board with a request to purchase a skid steer or similar piece of equipment for maintenance, such as snow removal, moving bleachers and more. With the recent parking lot and building expansion, Potts said, the campus will require twice the amount of snow removal as it did before.

Potts received three quotes for potential equipment, noting that it was difficult to find used options: A John Deere loader for $96,000, an all-wheel skid steer from Camp Implement for $86,000 and a tool cat for $80,000.

“None of these things are cheap, unfortunately,” Potts told the board, adding that the John Deere loader is his preferred option.

While the other options have limited attachments and low lifting capacity, the loader can lift more than 5,600 pounds and works with all skid steer attachments such as a bucket, snow blower and fork lift hooks.

So far, Potts has borrowed or rented equipment to complete tasks around campus.

The school board also discussed the fiscal year 2023 budget during the Aug. 16 meeting, but broke for recess until 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 23 since the budget isn’t ready for approval yet.

“It is in progress,” Uthlaut said.

The Three Forks School Board resumed its budget discussion and hosted a special meeting for other agenda items after The Voice’s print deadline.