Pownal accepts 5 school buses

3 of the former school district vehicles to be sold

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POWNAL — The town is set to take possession of all five buses of the former Pownal School District.

At a special Select Board meeting on Monday, the board formally decided that they wanted to take possession of the buses, said Michael Walker, town administrator.

Three will remain parked and be sold at auction; the other two will be used for things like field trips and summer recreation transportation.

The next step is to get the bus titles and registrations in the town's hands, Walker said.

"There was a concern by some that that wasn't approved by the voters," Walker said of the acceptance of the five buses. "There's no money exchanged. They're literally giving them to us."

At their final meeting, held on June 19, the Pownal School District board unanimously voted to gift their five buses to the town, authorizing the chairperson to sign whatever paperwork necessary to effectuate the transfer, according to meeting minutes.

The Pownal School District merged with the Bennington, Shaftsbury and Woodford districts as of July 1 to form the Southwest Vermont Union Elementary School District.

The board's decision to gift the buses does not need to be approved by the new union district board, said Derek Carson, public information coordinator for the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, in an email.

At town meeting in March, voters also approved an article authorizing the Select Board to acquire, maintain and operate two buses donated by the Pownal School District.

The article passed by a vote of 401 in favor and 276 against.

The town's estimated cost of owning and operating the two buses is $13,450; that sum was budgeted in the road fund budget.

Funds from the sale of the other three buses will go into undesignated funds, Walker said.

It could take as little as a week to prepare the three buses for sale, he said.

At the Select Board meeting on Monday, the board handed a letter detailing their request to Cindy Brownell, Walker said. Brownell was chairwoman of the Pownal School District board before the merger.

Brownell previously told voters at the floor meeting in March that the buses are important for field trips.

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"We tried to get Dufour," she said, referring to Dufour Tours, the SVSU's bus system. "They're too expensive. The timing is never correct."

The town doesn't know how much the three buses will sell for, but the road foreman, Joel Burrington, indicated that "probably the max we could see" is $5,000 per bus, Walker said.

The town has found an insurance carrier — Progressive — willing to insure the buses, he said.

The total cost to insure both buses will come to about $4,000 per year, he said.

"I think it was estimated at around $3,400, so we're in the ballpark," he said.

Progressive was the only carrier that would cover the buses, he said.

"Because we're not under the umbrella of a municipal school district," Walker said. "For the carrier here, we're on our own. It was very difficult to find somebody that would cover it. But we did."

Progressive will only insure the buses for $1 million in liability — something Walker told the previous Select Board would put the town "in a bind."

When reached Tuesday, he said he is concerned that amount wouldn't be enough.

At the last meeting of the previous iteration of the Select Board on Feb. 28, the board expressed concern about the cost of bus insurance. The Vermont League of Cities and Towns has advised that claims relating to the buses could reach $10 million.

"They're saying that [operating] the buses independently exposes us to significant risks that are inherent with owning buses and transporting children," Walker previously told the Banner.

Walker said he is also awaiting a quote to insure the three buses that would be sold and not driven.

"[It's] just a simple liability," he said. "It's a significantly reduced amount."

The Pownal School District lost a battle a few years ago to keep its own school bus transit. It had been the only district in the SVSU that operated its own buses.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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