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LANCASTER SCHOOL DISTRICT PONDERS OPTIONS IN BUS SHORTAGE

With a brand-new school for fifth- and sixth-graders set to open next fall, Lancaster school officials are scrambling to head off a bus shortage.

Officials are pondering whether to put the $1.74 million purchase of 23 buses -- 12 replacements and 11 for the new school -- up for another public vote on Dec. 15 in the wake of overwhelming voter rejection of four spending propositions earlier this month.

They also are weighing whether the transportation department could get along without new buses, a decision that would delay starting times for students from kindergarten through sixth grade by half an hour.

The School Board won't decide until its Oct. 27 meeting when Superintendent Joseph L. Girardi is expected to ask for the revote.

The district would have to approve the purchase by the end of the year to have the new buses ready for fall. But if preliminary signs are correct, another public outcry is right around the bend.

"Parents work. This isn't going to work," said Shelly Au, a Country Place resident, about the possibility of later starting times.

"We have to understand the impact. If we don't get those buses this year, that (new) school is going to have a problem," she said.

Sandy Needham of Old Mill Run said the board could have it both ways, if they cut a few corners.

"In our subdivision, I think there's only 20 kids that get picked up on one bus. And there's two buses that came through there," she said. "I really don't know why.

If the bus purchase is approved, Girardi said, kindergartners through fourth-graders will start school at 8:45 a.m. and be dismissed at 3 p.m., while fifth- and sixth-graders at the new school will start at 9:15 a.m. and be dismissed at 3:30 p.m. If no new buses are bought before school starts next fall, kindergartners through fourth-graders will be in school from 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. and fifth- and sixth-graders will go from 9:45 a.m. to 4 p.m., Girardi said.

The transportation problem will not affect the starting or dismissal times at the high school or Aurora Middle School, officials said.

According to Girardi, the purchase of 12 replacement buses for current routes would cost $872,000, while the purchase of 11 buses for the new school, under construction at William Street and Siebert Road, would cost an additional $866,000.

The 23-bus purchase would have no tax impact for the first year after the purchase, but then a 10-cent impact for each of the next five years.

If another vote occurs, the district may decide to offer two propositions -- one for the replacement buses and the other for buses to serve the new school.

If only the replacement buses would be approved by voters, Girardi said, it would still mean a delay in the starting times at the new school.

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