Aging buses, cars, suburbans and vans - all with thousands of miles on each odometer.

That's how Grove Superintendent Sandy Coaly describes the state of the district's transportation fleet of 30-plus vehicle fleet, which includes eight activity buses, 22 route buses, three suburbans, one van, a car, an ag truck and a shop truck, has more than a combined 3.9 million miles.

Of those vehicles, multiple route buses have more than 100,000 miles, and two of the suburbans top more than 200,000 miles.

On Tuesday, March 6, Grove Public School voters will head to the polls to determine the fate of a $800,000 transportation bond destined to improve the district's fleet of vehicles.

If approved by district patrons, Coaly said monies generated from the sale of the bonds will be used to purchase seven to eight buses and two to three vehicles which can be used for smaller school trips.

Early voting began on Thursday, March 1, at the Delaware County Election Board office. As of presstime only three people had cast early ballots.

Voting continues on Friday, March 2, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., at the county office located at 225 South Fifth Street, in Jay.

Day of election voting, for patrons living within the district takes place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., on Tuesday, March 6.

Those precincts within the district include 3 - Monkey Island Fire Department, 4 - Hickory Grove Fire Department, 5 - St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, 6 - Cowskin Fire Department No. 1, 7 - First United Methodist Church, Grove, 8 - Butler Baptist Church, 9 - Grace Harbor Baptist Church, 11 - Bible Baptist Church, and 12 - Zena Community Center.

Before voters again

This is the second time district officials have placed a transportation bond before voters. In 2017, 425 voters or 54.35 percent voted in favor of the measure, while 357 or 45.65 percent voted against it.

While most elections are decided by a vote to vote margin, Oklahoma law requires school bonds pass by a 60 percent majority. According to county election board officials there are more than 11,000 registered voters in the nine precincts within the school district.

About the bond

If approved by voters, the funds would help the district improve the current bus fleet. The last transportation bond, approved in 2013 by voters, added the two white transportation buses. 

"We are in dire need of buses," explained Superintendent Sandy Coaly, adding that without improvements to the fleet, district officials might be forced to stop running any in town routes, and instead focus on the rural routes.

Coaly said cuts to the school's transportation budget by state officials have put districts around the state - not just Grove - in dire straits. 

"Bus transportation is a privilege," Coaly said. "We need good buses running our routes. We hope parents will get out there and vote."

Coaly the new buses needed by the district are not a luxury, but rather a necessity. 

"It's all about safe, reliable transportation," Coaly said. 

Coaly said the district's current transportation budget sits at approximately $350,000. Those monies are used to keep the existing fleet on the road, funding everything from repairs to diesel fuel. 

Coaly said a load of diesel purchased this week cost the district more than $15,000. She anticipates having to purchase at least one additional load before the end of the school year.

"We budget $80,000 a year just on diesel," Coaly said. "This doesn't allow us the funds to purchase new buses."

Coaly said until the state legislature changes the way public education receives funds, a bond issue is the only way the district can make significant capital improvements from buildings to buses.

"We depend on the bond issues," Coaly said. "If you rent, you pay nothing. If you own property, you pay it once a year."

School officials said the property tax increase would be approximately $1.04 per $100 assessed evaluation. 

So for a person with a $1,000 property tax bill, the cost would be an additional $10.37 per year, if the bond is approved by voters.

Coaly said without the new buses, district officials are between a rock and a hard place - providing adequate transportation to students to and from school, as well as providing transportation to various school functions throughout the state.

Coaly said one issue facing the bus fleet is the rough terrain within Delaware County and surrounding Grand Lake.

"The roads are so rough, they beat up our buses," Coaly said.

If approved, the new buses would become the district's activity buses, as well as route buses.

Additionally, if the new buses are obtained, the district's current four yellow activity buses would become route buses. Those buses range in mileage from 24,158 to 45,543. By state law, the two white buses will remain activity buses. Only yellow school buses can run routes.

Coaly said the new buses would also contain air conditioning, a move which lets the district retire buses without air conditioning. 

The buses which could then be cycled out of the routes, would be used as "parts" until district officials have taken all usable parts for other repairs.

Coaly said the district is preparing to place several buses up for surplus during the March school board meeting. She said those buses have been stripped of everything from the door handles to the stop arms and are simply shells and can be only sold for scrap metal.

"We need safe reliable transportation," Coaly said. "We want our kids on safe buses.

"Taxes are a necessary evil at times. This bond is not huge, and we hope it passes. Last time it failed by 26 votes. 

"If it wasn't for a bond, we wouldn't have the PAC [Performing Arts Center]. The improved facility will mean great things for the students."