A discussion on whether students need air-conditioned buses left some Cobb County School Board members hot under the collar.
On the heels of a record-setting heat wave in Georgia, Cobb County School Board members will explore whether adding air conditioning to new buses will be a worthwhile investment in the future. But some board members disagreed over the need.
The board directed district staff members to bring back an analysis on how much it would cost to add air conditioning to buses the system buys. The majority of buses the county owns do not have air conditioning, and including air conditioning in a new bus costs about $10,000 extra, according to Marc Smith, chief technology and operations officer.
The discussion stemmed from a request to buy five 72-passenger traditional buses and four 48-passenger buses for special needs students from Yancy Bus Sales and Service for $844,758. The buses would be added to the district’s overall bus fleet.
Board members voted 5-2 to delay taking action on the item until next month’s meeting when staff members will present the report on the feasibility of adding air conditioning to the traditional buses. The board members agreed air conditioning was a necessity for the special needs buses.
Smith said Cobb County Schools has a total of 1,133 school buses. Of those, 855 are regular service and 278 are for special education students. The district uses about 1,000 buses to transport roughly 70,000 students to and from school. The remaining buses are used to transport students and staff on special occasions, such as field trips or events, Smith said.
Many metro Atlanta school buses do not have air conditioning. During the summer months, drivers leave the windows open to allow for maximum air flow. But when Cobb’s school year began on Aug. 1, there were many days of 90-degree temperatures still to come and the heat didn’t abate until earlier this month.
Board member Dr. Jaha Howard, who proposed adding air conditioning to the five traditional buses, said children on the uncooled buses are at risk for overheating due to lack of proper nutrition and hydration.
“It seems that this gives us more flexibility and does not lock us into a long term financial commitment,” he said, referring to only adding air conditioning to the five new buses at this time.
Board member David Banks did not support Howard’s suggestion. Banks rides the school bus on the first day of classes every year and the only time when the heat is an issue is in the afternoons, he said. To change the district’s policy would be a “mistake” since the heat is only a problem about four to six weeks out of the school year, Banks said.
“These kids are not hot,” he said. “The temperature does not faze them.”
Banks’ comments drew groans from several people in the audience. One person responded to Banks by saying, “That’s totally wrong.”
Board member Randy Scamihorn also took issue with Howard’s suggestion that students have trouble coping with the heat, adding the children “are very adaptable.” He also said the cost to add air conditioning could easily grow to an additional $25,000 per bus. Scamihorn said approving the request on the fly would be “absolutely reckless.”
Howard, who works with children as a pediatric dentist, said he believes the school board was falling into the trap of characterizing his question as an “either/or decision.” He said he believed the school board could make the commitment to add the air conditioning to five buses and explore whether it’s feasible to continue adding on air conditioning to future bus purchases.
“I don’t know why we are making this difficult,” he added.
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