JCC Supes Postpone Decision to Buy School Buses Until January

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(Gregory Connolly/WYDaily)

The Williamsburg-James City County school division will have to wait until January to find out if it can use unspent funds to buy more school buses.

During the James City County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, representatives from the school division requested board approval to spend $1,155,936 in school funds that were not used in fiscal year 2015 to buy eight replacement buses, one new bus for the New Horizons Regional Education Center and new social studies textbooks.

The board voted in favor the textbook purchase — new social studies textbooks had not been adopted since 2006, school officials said — but unanimously agreed to postpone a vote on the bus purchase because members said they did not have enough information to make a decision.

WJCC will also need the approval of Williamsburg’s City Council, which has not yet considered the plan. The City Council will need to approve $163,887 so the school division can spend a total of $1,279,823 of unexpended funds.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Michael Hipple (Powhatan) said WJCC Chief Financial Officer Christina Berta presented the “wants” of the school division well but not the “needs,” as Berta did not have a plan on hand for how the buses would be used and how many buses are old enough to be replaced.

Six buses were purchased in June to replace vehicles that are 16 years old. Berta said after the school division was unable to purchase replacement buses during the recession, WJCC schools wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to “accelerate” the replacement schedule while the funds were available.

The schedule recommends swapping out nine buses annually.

“That information should be readily accessible,” said Jim Kennedy (Stonehouse) of the number of buses that are 15 years old or older. “If the argument is we’re replacing them because of this, we need that information.”

Vice Chairman Kevin Onizuk (Jamestown) questioned the need to purchase the buses right away, as he had been previously informed the school division was following the replacement schedule without issue.

“We should bank it until these schools have a plan,” Onizuk said of the unspent funds. “We can consider it at that time. If it’s a reasonable plan, we’ll get behind it.”

The Williamsburg-James City County School Board voted last month to approve the spending recommendation for the unspent funds, which were available due to budgeted expenditures that cost less than anticipated, such as electrical services and fuel as well as salary attrition.

“I think postponing it is fine. They’ve been very supportive in the funding of the buses,” said Deputy Superintendent Olwen Herron of the supervisors’ decision.

Superintendent Steven Constantino said during the September school board work session the spending plan would allow for spare vehicles to be incorporated in the bus rotation and help the school division resolve challenges with the tier system, which groups bus service based on school start times.

The supervisors voted to revisit the spending plan during the Jan. 12, 2015 regular meeting.