Outside review: Oberlin’s school bus fleet is deteriorating

By Jason Hawk - jhawk@aimmediamidwest.com

Oberlin’s school bus fleet isn’t in great shape.

Averaging 9.6 years old, all of the buses are roadworthy, according to an analysis conducted by an Ohio School Boards Association official the week of June 19. Two are new or like new and two more are in good shape.

But five others are deteriorating and on the poor end of the spectrum. Rated on a scale of 0 to 4, the average is just 1.67 points.

It’s rust that’s tanking the fleet’s rating, not the axles, transmissions, or engines, said Countryview Services owner Matthew Tipple, who maintains the buses.

The vehicles sit outside and suffer from salt corrosion from winter roads, he told the board of education Tuesday: “It’s killing them.”

Superintendent David Hall showed pictures of rusty bus undercarriages, contrasted with clean and well-maintained bodies. Every Oberlin City Schools bus has been certified by the state and is safe, he said.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol will conduct inspections July 11. The deadline is prompting education officials to consider which buses to have cleared by inspectors and which to trade in.

Tipple said an eight-year-old bus can bring $25,000 to $30,000 on the open market, often selling to church groups or other private parties.

“The big problem… after about eight years of a bus, the cost to keep it on the road is exponential,” he said. “After eight years, we’re changing parts we should never have to change because you’ve taken it way past its useful life.”

New buses typically cost $85,000. Delivery typically takes three to four months after an order is placed.

The OSBA fleet review was conducted at the request of the school board. It came after complaints by parents in April regarding maintenance costs, which jumped from $47,107 in 2006-2007 to $135,453 the following academic year when the board hired Countryview Services.

Costs have stayed above $100,000 every year since, ranging between $12,000 and $19,000 per bus. The OSBA has recommended per-bus maintenance spending closer to $6,000.

The OSBA is still compiling data from its review of Oberlin’s fleet. Once the final report is issued, Hall expects to make adjustments to maintenance policy.

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

By Jason Hawk