Galveston parents and residents took to social media recently to express discontent with the state of the school district’s bus fleet.
They posted photos of buses with holes and rust covering the roof and sides of the vehicles.
“It’s a damn shame to represent Galveston ISD riding up in something like that,” said Ralph Sendejas, who first posted about the issue. “You can actually look through the buses. I had a buddy stick his finger into a hole on the bus.”
District officials, meanwhile, said the state of the buses was already on their radar and they have plans to address the issue.
“If we use the bond money to purchase new vehicles under our replacement plan, I don’t think you will see this problem in the future,” said John Pruitt, the district’s director of transportation.
Galveston voters in May will decide on a $31 million bond referendum, which leaders envision as the first in a two-part plan to improve district facilities.
The May election will not raise the district’s tax rate, officials said.
Included in the May bond referendum is $2.5 million to purchase 20 buses and 15 fleet vehicles and another $410,000 to build a new bus wash and fuel canopy at the district’s transportation center, records show.
Although the bond will help speed up the district’s bus replacement plan, transportation officials already have been replacing buses on a steady basis, Pruitt said.
The district purchased five new buses in 2017 and seven in 2016, Pruitt said.
If the bond passes, transportation officials plan to stagger the purchase of new buses so that warranties don’t run out all at once, Pruitt said.
“We’d be in exactly the same situation we are right now,” Pruitt said.
When Hurricane Ike struck the island in 2008, it damaged or destroyed much of the school district’s bus fleet, officials said.
After the storm, district officials acquired about 30 used 1997 school buses from Houston Independent School District, officials said.
The move was important, given the state of the district after the storm, but officials have had their work cut out for them as the buses aged, Pruitt said.
“A school district typically replaces a bus every eight to 10 years,” said Mike Praker, the district’s assistant director of transportation. “We have to do that more frequently here being so close to the coast. A daily route is about 30 to 60 miles.”
The older buses have bigger problems with rusting, but even the newer ones sometimes show quick signs of rust because of the corrosive nature of the salty air in Galveston, Praker said.
A new bus wash would help transportation officials wash the fleet more frequently, removing some of the more damaging elements, Pruitt said.
The district hasn’t had a bus wash since Hurricane Ike destroyed the old one in 2008, Pruitt said.
The district’s fleet consists of about 46 buses, officials said. Only about 10 of the 1997 buses remain in the fleet, Pruitt said.
District officials avoid using the older buses for more travel than is necessary, but the process is sometimes complicated when transportation is needed for extracurricular events, Pruitt said.