Payson schools bag new bus

Payson will get a bright, shiny, new school bus, thanks to Volkswagen’s dirty air tests on diesel engines.

Payson will get $110,000 to add a brand new bus to its aging fleet. Right now, some of its buses have 200,000 miles on the odometer.

Pine and Globe could also end up with new buses by the time the diesel smoke clears.

Gov. Doug Ducey announced a new round of grants for school buses paid for from the state’s $38 million share of a settlement between the federal government and Volkswagen.

Arizona in 2018 distributed $32 million to districts to buy some 285 school buses. The money went to districts in which more than half of the families qualified as low-income. Payson just missed the cutoff for those distributions. The final round of grants allocates $5 million to buy another 45 buses for rural districts.

Gila County School Superintendent Roy Sandoval and other rural school superintendents lobbied the governor’s office to include more rural school districts, which generally face much higher transportation costs than more compact, urban districts.

“I am grateful to Governor Ducey and his staff for creating this opportunity. Much thanks to Dawn Wallace, special assistant to the governor, for her tireless support for education. As well, I am grateful to my county superintendent colleagues who came together and quickly created criteria and a process for application,” Sandoval said. “The whole process very much illustrated how quickly things can move when bureaucracy is moved aside and decisions can be made by folks who are very close to the point of contact.”

Payson Unified School District Superintendent Greg Wyman said, “PUSD is thankful for the help of the governor’s office for funding a new bus. I appreciate Roy Sandoval in helping. I also appreciate Kathie Manning’s hard work in submitting the applications.”

Ducey in a press release commented, “Investing in our K-12 schools remains a top priority. The new school buses have gone a long way to benefit Arizona schools, especially those in rural, low-income districts and rural communities. And with this last round of funding, every rural county in Arizona received at least one bus.”

School districts in southern Gila County received one bus in the first round and a second bus in the most recent round. All told, Gila County schools wound up with three of the 330 buses, which went to 141 districts and charters.

The money stemmed from a 2016 settlement between Volkswagen and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The car company admitted to programing cars to fake emissions results to evade anti-smog requirements. The faked results involved perhaps 11 million cars, including 550,000 sold in the US after 2008. The full settlement totaled $14.7 billion, with about $10 billion used to compensate car owners.

Arizona will receive a total of $57 million over the next two years, which will also fund capital projects that include supporting wildland fire crews and equipment for the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Payson in 2017 spent $544 per student on transportation, according to the Arizona auditor general’s most recent report on school spending.

The district’s per-student cost compared to $414 for comparable school districts and a statewide average of $381. That puts Payson’s costs 43 percent above the statewide average.

This partly reflects the sprawling territory of the district, which reaches from Pine to Tonto Basin. In addition, Payson’s unusual breakdown of grade levels means the district must bus every grade level to a single campus from all over town, doing away with neighborhood schools and increasing transportation costs. Finally, the district has put off many capital investments due to years of state budget cuts. As a result, the district’s fleet of aging buses remains subject to frequent breakdowns and high maintenance costs.

Contact the writer at paleshire@payson.com

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