School board meeting: Supt. Goldman announces comprehensive review of bus services

A large skyward project and an extensive ground-level review of student transportation services were just two matters before the Hood River County School Board of Directors in its meeting Wednesday.

The board approved what will be the largest solar panel installation in the district, to be installed by the end of this year at Hood River Valley High School, where the board met.

The district bus fleet is aging, and more transportation efficiencies are needed, according to Dan Goldman, district superintendent, who has been on the job for seven months.

“I believe we are at a decision point,” Goldman said. “Either we look changes to achieve efficiencies in ways we provide transportation, or we’re going to have to look at reductions in other areas so that we can buy two buses a year.

“The administration is committed to protecting class sizes and programs as much as possible so we are going to start exploring a number of potential changes to our general transportation services,” Goldman said.

The board also took a lengthy look at two documents-in-transition. One is the new District Strategic Plan, and the other is the ongoing review of every district policy, which covered ample ground from building use to committee appointments.

The policy review discussion led to a lively conversation between staff and board members over how to go about filling empty positions on the budget committee.

After discussion, the board retained policy language that will keep the appointments geographically based.

The board approved acceptance of a $36,744 Pacific Power Blue Sky technology grant for the solar project, which will feature 80 panels, mostly on the south-facing science wing built four years ago. A web-based monitoring and data collection system will be installed as part of the project.

A $29,500 Oregon Department of Energy grant applied for by the district would augment the project budget, along with local support — including an anonymous $2,000 donation, dedicated to the project, received this month.

Goldman said Wednesday that he is starting a wide-ranging review of the district’s transportation department.

Cost-cutting and system efficiencies are the main aims of the effort, according to Goldman. The district will look at how and when its buses are used, and at potential changes to bus routes and when and where kids get on and off buses.

On the table will be staggered starts at the schools, as a way to serve the same number of students but with fewer buses on the roads at one time. Currently the schools all start within about 15 minutes of each other between 7:50 and 8:05 a.m.

Historically, the district has replaced two buses per year; but the last few years has only been able to afford to replace one bus each year.

The board approved the purchase of a bus in its last meeting; Goldman said the cost of one bus — $124,259 — is equivalent to two licensed staff.

Goldman said one third of the district’s fleet is in the later stages of the fleet life cycle; and many were unable to start during recent cold weather, leaving the district with fewer available buses.

“There were kids standing out waiting for buses in the freezing cold for longer than they should have in freezing weather,” Goldman said.

“We need to explore general changes to our transportation service,” he said.

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