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EPISD Bond opponents question use of bond money to buy new school buses

More than $8 million of the record $669 million El Paso Independent School District bond will go toward purchasing new buses, an expense some think should come from the district’s maintenance and operations budget rather than a bond proposal.

EPISD has 315 buses currently in service. They average more than three million miles a year total, or 10,000 miles per bus. The average age of those buses is eight years, but the district has 81 buses more than 20 years old it wants to replace at a cost of about $100,000 each.

“We don’t intend to finance short term assets with long term debt, that was never the plan,” EPISD board member Susie Byrd told ABC-7. “It would not be financially prudent.” Byrd said the district would use different financing terms for different items.

“Laptops, buses, turf for our athletic fields, all of those have shelf lives of much less than 20 years,” Byrd said. “So we want to make sure we finance those items with debt that will cover essentially the lifetime of that asset.”

She said buses would be financed for 10 to 15 years, while construction projects would be financed for about 20 to 25 years. EPISD said the average lifespan of buses is no more than 15 years.

Byrd told ABC-7 the maintenance costs double after 10 years, making it much more cost-effective to buy new buses. “It becomes very expensive to hold onto them at that point,” Byrd said, “so we really want to have a fleet replacement program.”

Opponents of the EPISD bond asked why there was no fleet replacement program in the past. “Failure to plan is planning to fail and that’s exactly what happened,” Daniel Lopez told ABC-7, “They failed.” Lopez is co-chair of “Vote No EPISD Bond.”

EPISD Transportation Director Oscar Anchondo said propane buses should save the district money. Using propane will also be cleaner for the air. “Those new buses are more fuel efficient, they are propane buses, which is cheaper,” Anchondo said.

Gasoline and diesel fuel cost almost double the price of propane, though most references we found show gasoline to be about a third more fuel efficient, cutting into that savings.

“We’ve taken ownership for things that past boards and administrations have kind of kicked down the road,” Byrd said. “Certainly that’s probably why the bond is so large.”

Passage of the bond would push EPISD’s tax rate up more than 13 percent, or more than $200 extra a year for an average home.

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