Buying school buses is a brain teaser for Hillsborough School Board

Published Aug. 28, 2013

TAMPA — The state makes it relatively simple for school districts to buy buses.

But it's not so simple in Hillsborough County.

For the third time Tuesday, board members spent much of their meeting deliberating over how the job should be done.

"I think we have beat this horse to death," member Doretha Edgecomb said during one moment of frustration.

Said chairwoman April Griffin, "We have confused the living daylights out of staff."

Still, the discussion continued for more than an hour.

The issue first arose on July 30, when the staff asked for approval to buy buses from Thomas, one of three manufacturers approved by the state. Having not bought buses in the past four years, the district can spend about $3 million to replace part of its fleet.

But board members received details of the proposal shortly before the meeting. Led by member Cindy Stuart, they asked the administration to come back with a clearer proposal.

They received a second proposal shortly before the Aug. 13 meeting, this time to buy Bluebird buses. Member Candy Olson objected, for similar reasons.

The board voted to create a committee that would include parents, drivers, an elementary school principal, a union representative and others.

On Tuesday, when they met to iron out the details of the committee, things got more complicated.

Stuart suggested that the district get expertise from an independent consultant.

Member Stacy White questioned whether that would be a wise us of money. "If this board had to dispose of nuclear waste, that would be a very wise decision to hire an independent consultant," he said.

Olson suggested the district get help from the Council of the Great City Schools, but said she wouldn't insist on it, after member Susan Valdes objected. Olson also said it might make sense for vendors to pitch their buses directly to the board, but not everyone agreed with that idea.

And Valdes wanted to get a better understanding of the existing fleet before buying anything. "I wonder what our true inventory is," she said. "Do we know what we have?''

Griffin wanted to discuss broader issues in a workshop, such as whether the district should seek alternative fuels.

In the end, the board asked the staff to advertise for a consultant. The board will meet again to approve the consultant and will discuss issues surrounding bus purchases at a workshop.

The board voted unanimously not to create a committee unless the consultant recommends one.