LPCSD voters to weigh in on school bus buys

LAKE PLACID — The Lake Placid Central School District Board of Education unanimously voted to add a proposition to purchase three gas-powered buses to May’s budget vote at its meeting on March 19.

The discussion surrounding the proposition continued a months-long debate about the pros and cons of gas-powered and electric school buses, with board member Ryan St. Louis questioning the safety of electric school buses.

Bus propositions are on the ballot nearly every year in Lake Placid, but typically these propositions are to lease buses. This new proposition would, if approved, authorize the school board to purchase two 68-passenger school buses and one 65-passenger school bus. Under this proposition, the buses would be fully paid off in five years at a cost no higher than $41,000 per bus — or $123,000 total — per year.

The school budget vote is May 21, and there are typically polling stations in both Lake Placid and Wilmington. In past years, there have been budget hearings in both Wilmington and Lake Placid. The board has switched to a system of one yearly hearing that alternates locations. This year it’ll be in Wilmington on May 7, and next year it’ll be in Lake Placid.

Bus purchases

LPCSD currently leases its school buses on three to five year cycles, spending about $105,000 yearly on bus leases, according to Assistant Superintendent for Business, Finance and Support Services Dana Wood. With a state deadline to switch to electric buses on the horizon, though, the school board is moving toward purchasing buses instead of leasing them.

Established in New York’s 2022-23 fiscal year budget in April 2022, the Electric School Bus Roadmap is the state’s goal to transition all school buses in the state to zero-emission operation by 2035. This mandate is the first of its kind in the country. The first milestone on this roadmap will occur on July 1, 2027, when all new school buses purchased in the state must be zero-emission.

According to Wood, some school districts — including LPCSD — are opting to purchase gas-powered buses before that deadline and operate with a hybrid fleet rather than making a hard transition to all electric buses.

Wood told the school board at the March 19 meeting that there are three options for the district’s bus acquisitions going forward: they can continue leasing the buses, purchase buses with bonds or purchase buses with the district’s fund balance.

Leasing is the cheapest option per year, Wood said, but could create more costs for the district when the electric bus mandate goes into effect in three years and the district does not own any gas buses.

“Come 2027, we no longer purchase gas-powered buses,” Wood said. “We can have a whole fleet of gas and that’s fine; they’re not going to tell us to get rid of them. We just can’t have access to buying them.”

The second option, purchasing with bonds, will come with a higher price tag than leasing the buses — around $122,000 per year for five years — but will give the district some security when the mandate goes into effect. Purchasing the buses outright with the district’s fund balance would cost a little less than the bond option, according to Wood, but could hurt the district’s finances if there are future cuts to school aid like the ones proposed in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive budget plan.

The district is eyeing a hybrid bus fleet after 2027. Wood said purchasing gas buses in the next few years is the smartest decision for that fleet.

“Over the next couple years, we will purchase enough buses so that we would have half our fleet would be gas, and then come 2027, we start buying the EV buses,” he said. “We would use the gas power to do our long route trips and use our EV buses to do our daily runs until the (EV) technology catches up.”

District Superintendent Timothy Seymour said that buying the buses and holding onto them longer than they would while leasing buses would help the district “come out ahead.”

“We could be in a situation where he who has outright control of gas-powered buses has jokers in the deck, and so to have exclusive control of those things in an unknown period, I think, could be beneficial because either way we win in that,” he said.

Seymour said the district would have the options to either “ride (the gas-powered buses) into the sunset” or sell them secondhand to schools that are still seeking gas-powered buses but can’t buy them new because of the electric bus mandate.

Local school districts have started receiving funding for electric school buses. Last month, the Malone Central School District received a $1,580,000 grant that paid for four electric school buses.


Board member St. Louis voiced opposition to the electric bus mandate, saying “the Adirondacks is not the place” for electric buses.

“State lawmakers aren’t thinking with their heads,” he said. “We, as a board, have to … figure out how to keep our children safe because that’s actually what we’re trying to do: Keep our children safe, to and from school. An electric bus is not going to do that. I will never be a fan of an electric bus. I will never vote ‘yes’ to buying an electric bus; I’m saying that publicly now.”

Electric school buses have not been proven to be less safe than gas-powered school buses.

Though lithium-ion batteries have a word-of-mouth reputation for catching on fire, a review of vehicle fires by the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit energy research organization, found that passenger vehicles powered by gas engines are more likely to combust than electric vehicles. The same report found that, as more electric vehicles hit the road, rates of EV fires have actually decreased. This statistic is attributed to increasing battery inspection by manufacturers.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, electric buses have also been shown to be safer for children’s lungs than gas-powered buses, which emit fumes that can trigger respiratory problems and asthma attacks.

St. Louis has raised concerns about electric buses in the past, along with board member Colleen Locke. At a board meeting in September, they said they were dubious of electric buses’ capabilities during Adirondack winters.

Electric buses have been tested in cold, snowy and mountainous terrains similar to the North Country, such as in a case study by the Blue Bird Corporation at West Grand School District in Kremmling, Colorado. The buses held up well in cold weather and on steep, unstable terrains, though the batteries did tend to drain faster when the weather was cold.

In another case last year, the Chicago Transit Authority introduced an electric bus to its fleet with more mixed results than West Grand School District’s. When it’s cold outside the lithium-ion batteries that run the buses are less efficient and the buses’ mileage also drops. This is because more power is being diverted to heating the interior of the bus, which runs all day and also continually opens its doors to let passengers on and off.

Each one-way trip on the CTA bus route is 10 miles and costs about 8% of the bus’s battery. The range is about 100 miles at a full charge. That means drivers needed to top up after six one-way trips. However, school buses do not operate continuously from the morning to the evening, which makes them more likely candidates for electrification than buses operated by municipalities. They can be charged overnight and even in between morning and afternoon routes.


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