TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School Board voted Tuesday to hire an independent consultant to help the district navigate the process of purchasing new school buses.
The decision to bring in School Bus Consultants LLC, which passed unanimously by the four board members present, comes several months after the board asked staff to bring in outside help.
“I think it’s a good way to go,” board member Doretha Edgecomb said. “It’s not just about purchasing buses, but a myriad of things. There may be some things we want to look at as we look at the whole fleet, how we operate our buses and how we operate transportation as a whole.”
This year, the district has budgeted $3 million to spend on almost 30 buses, which cost $106,000 to $110,000 each, district Chief Facilities Officer Cathy Valdes said. The bus purchase is part of the district’s five-year plan.
A representative from the company will meet with the board during a workshop at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the school board office, 901 E. Kennedy Blvd., to talk about the scope of its work.
The terms and duration of the contract will be worked out after next week’s school board workshop, Valdes said.
When school districts purchase new buses, they consult a list of companies that the Florida Department of Education has evaluated as ones that build safe and efficient buses.
Over the summer, Hillsborough district staff made two separate recommendations to the board to purchase buses from state-approved companies. The first recommendation was to use Thomas Build Buses. The second was to purchase from Blue Bird, a less expensive option.
In meetings, board members rejected those recommendations, expressed concerns with the process and said they wanted the help of a group not affiliated with the school district to help them make their decision.
The district advertised for a consulting company. Maryland-based School Bus Consultants was the only respondent, with a proposal that would not exceed $79,800.
At one time, Hillsborough replaced part of its 1,400-bus fleet every year. The district scaled down that time frame because of tight finances; school buses have not been replaced in about three years.
“To stay ahead of the curve, so you’re not spending all your money repairing, you really need to have an annual replacement,” Valdes said.
The board also took the following actions at Tuesday’s meeting:
Board members asked their attorney, Jim Porter, to research the legalities involved in requiring assistant superintendents to fill out financial disclosure forms, a measure the board decided in September to put into place.
The board approved dozens of job appointments and transfers, including the appointment of Cathy Valdes to deputy superintendent. That post is being vacated by Dan Valdez, who is retiring Jan. 31. Valdes will officially take over Feb. 3.
The appointments include six new principals: Sharon Morris at Freedom High School; Brian Harvey at Clair Mel Elementary; Claire Mawhinney at Randall Middle; Milady Astacio at Thompson Elementary; Nicole Bennett at Ippolito Elementary, and Robin Johnson at Limona Elementary.