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School busses, routes struggle with beginning of school year

Aging fleet in need of major repairs

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The first of the school year had Morgan County School District transportation officials scrambling—changing routes, bringing in spare buses, and moving bus stops to accommodate a growing student population.

Numbers are up from last year, even though last year’s numbers are telling.  Last school year, Morgan buses drive a combined 1,460 each day to transport 1,377 students spread across 450 bus stops.

“It is a big responsibility keeping track of that many student on a daily basis,” said Transportation Director Ron Litchfield.  This year, new growth is concentrated in Mountain Green, Mahogany Ridge, South Morgan Valley Drive and Hardscrabble.  A new route was added in Mountain Green while nine routes throughout the district were changed.  “We are trying to run as efficient as we can, with capacity as high as we can because I am short drivers,” Litchfield said.  “We wear out a bus every year just based on miles getting kids to and from school.”

In the 2016-2017 school year, Morgan buses drove 309,052 with 48,788 “activity miles” transporting students to events as far away as St. George and Roosevelt.

Litchfield spent his summer with other employees tending to their 27 aging buses, patching rust, reconstructing step wells, repairing body panels, ordering and salvaging parts, repairing seat covers, and replacing engines and transmissions.  The fleet’s oldest bus is over 20 years old.

“A lot of are buses in our fleet are becoming older, requiring more and more maintenance,” Litchfield said.  “We had a lot of extensive jobs this summer, a challenging summer for body work and rust repairs to keep buses maintained and ready for inspection.  We have been struggling with the start of this year.”

Some of that struggle was exacerbated when two substitute bus drivers took other jobs, and no one as applied to replace them for the 29-hour-per-week, part-time position.

“We are struggling with getting bus drivers,” he said.  “We haven’t had any applicants for over a year.”

In the meantime, Litchfield is searching for an inexpensive way to fund new buses.  Grants are a possibility, but usually grants for a new bus require that you destroy an older bus in the fleet “and I need every bus we have at this point,” he said.  He said he retired a special needs mircro bus originally donated from the UTA two years ago, and another five years ago. 

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