Schools pay Countryview after bus cost concerns

By Jason Hawk -

Payment on an $11,000 engine repair bill was approved May 23, weeks after the Oberlin school board expressed concern over its bus fleet costs.

The expense had raised eyebrows in April when Countryview Services of Wakeman was accused by local residents of potentially inflating transportation charges to the district.

Education officials said Matthew Tipple, who owns Countryview, rebuilt the engine of a 10-year-old school bus that broke down. Doing so saved an estimated $7,000 over buying a new engine.

Tipple was hired in 2006 to maintain Oberlin’s buses.

He was upset as he reiterated to the board of education much of what he told the News-Tribune in late April — that buses fell into a state of disrepair in the early 2000s, and when the public balked at buying new ones, he was told to keep older models in running shape.

“There was a lot of safety issues, a lot of older buses,” he said.

When he was hired, the Ohio State Highway Patrol had failed three Oberlin buses during their annual inspections. In the years since, there have been 214 individual bus inspections and no failing grades.

Tipple said the cost of keeping old buses on the road grows with each year. And while he can fix engines and axles, there’s not much he can do about rust and worn metal bodies.

A parent group led by resident Jessica New has disputed transportation costs as part of a debate over taxpayer-funded busing to Lake Ridge Academy. Last month, the group called out Tipple and Countryview, saying Oberlin’s bus costs are much higher than in neighboring districts.

New said Oberlin has spent between $12,000 and $19,000 per bus each year, compared to $3,000 per bus each year spent by the Wellington school system.

The Oberlin Schools had transportation-related costs of $47,107 in the 2006-2007 school year. The following year, when Countryview was hired, costs rose above $100,000 and have stayed above that threshold ever since. The peak was $145,976 in the 2015-2016 school year.

Board members at the April meeting said the spending trend deserved an inquiry. “Something’s fishy with this, it looks to me,” board member Ken Stanley had said.

Tipple countered May 23, telling the board the reason Oberlin’s expenses look so different is that he does everything from oil changes to electrical system repairs, security camera installation, painting, and fixing windows.

Board member Barry Richard made a point of assuring residents at the meeting that Oberlin’s school buses are safe and will be kept that way regardless of who is tasked with their maintenance.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk