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State board weighs buying school buses

Contingency funds could go for prison vans

Wednesday, March 10, 2004
Copyright Las Vegas Review-Journal




CARSON CITY -- Gov. Kenny Guinn and other members of the state Board of Examiners on Tuesday postponed spending $2.66 million for 34 vans, 15 crew carriers and other items for the Corrections Department until they find out if they have enough money to buy school buses.

With $11.9 million left in the Legislature's contingency fund, Guinn questioned whether that is enough to buy safe buses for children and transportation for inmates.

"We have to be careful not to use all the contingency fund, or we might not have money left for school buses," he said. "You have to get kids to school."

The state and school districts are faced with a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration directive to replace older Carpenter school buses with faulty weld problems.

The directive came last year after a Carpenter school bus rolled over in Florida and the roof collapsed to the level of the seats. No children were in the bus.

State Budget Director Perry Comeaux said the Department of Public Safety has been inspecting Carpenter buses across Nevada.

Those with a few welding problems can be repaired. But if more than 20 percent of their welds are defective, the buses cannot be used again, Comeaux said.

He said Carpenter has filed for bankruptcy and the state and school districts cannot secure funds for repairs or replacement buses.

The Clark County School District last year phased out its 23 Carpenter buses, which carried special-education students. The district paid $2 million for replacement buses.

In Washoe County, 69 of 71 Carpenter businesses were found to have defective welds. Fifteen were taken out of service. The school district approved spending $200,000 to purchase new buses under a lease-purchase plan.

The state Corrections Department used 70 Carpenter buses, of which 23 failed weld inspections.

State Forester Steve Robinson asked the Board of Examiners to replace the buses with vans and crew carriers, calling them more efficient. They would carry honor camp inmates to wildland fire sites and to work projects.

Robinson said the fire season begins in May, and he hopes to have replacement vans available by then.

But Guinn wants the Department of Education first to determine what the state must pay in school bus purchases. He wants the report completed before the April 7 meeting of the Legislature's Interim Finance Committee.

Funds for the purchase of buses or prison vans ultimately need that committee's approval.

Also during Tuesday's meeting, board members voted to spend $9.27 million with Sequoia Voting Systems to replace punch-card voting systems with electronic voting machines in every county except Clark County. Clark County already uses Sequoia electronic machines.

All but $463,000 of the money comes from the federal government through the Help America Vote Act.