Schools seeking support for bond

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Public Schools Transportation Director Dean Hix, shown here with elements of the school district’s vehicle fleet, is hoping a strong “yes” vote on the upcoming school bond issue will allow the district to buy as many as three new school buses. Robert Smith/Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Most parents of Pawhuska Public Schools students are probaby pretty well zeroed in on Aug. 22, as the date of primary importance on their calendars. That’s the day school starts.

But Dean Hix, the school district’s transportation director, hopes they’ll remember Sept. 10, as well. That’s the day of the election regarding a proposed $250,000 bond issue to help update the district’s bus fleet.

“We just absolutely need it,” Hix said. He clarified that Pawhuska Public Schools has been able to replace smaller vehicles at a pretty decent rate, but it has not updated its collection of large buses.

Hix explained the oldest large bus in the Pawhuska fleet is a 2004 model that is now primarily used as a backup bus. There are some 2005 models that have undergone significant repairs in the past couple of years and remain in fair condition, a 2008 model that has been parked because of electrical issues and an unsafe braking system, and some 2013 models.

Last school year, Pawhuska had three buses break down at the same time and a bus company out of Oklahoma City provided the school district with a loaner bus, Hix said.

“That was at no charge,” he said. “They did it just to help the school out.”

The school district spent about $15,000 last year on bus repairs, Hix said. The district tries to do in-house maintenance, but some problems — especially electrical problems — have to be sent to commercial shops for repair work.

Pawhuska Public Schools runs five bus routes, four of which are mostly rural, Hix said. Buses run to Bowring, to Okesa and Nelagoney, to the Pawhuska Airport and Bluestem Lake areas, and to the Drummond Ranch area, he said.

“That’s a lot of mileage to cover,” Hix said. “What really hurts you here is the roads are so rough the bodies start to wear out.”

Hix said the district is hoping to shop for three new large school buses, if the bond issue passes.

“It’s really down to just a safety issue,” Superintendent David Cash said. “We’ve just got some buses that have been on the road too long. They’re getting worn out.”

When the Pawhuska Board of Education looked at possibilities for a bond issue, a transportation bond like this was the option deemed most likely to have very little effect on the tax bills of area property owners.

Cash provided the Journal-Capital with data to the effect that the transportation bond issue would likely result in a small marginal increase in tax bills. For instance, if your previous tax bill was $100, you would likely see an annual increase of $2.92. If your previous tax bill was $500, you would likely see an annual increase of $14.62; and if your previous tax bill was $1,000, you would likely see an annual increase of $29.23.

A three-fifths majority, or 60% approval, is needed to pass this bond issue.