CAZENOVIA — On May 17, the Cazenovia Central School District Board of Education (BOE) continued its discussion regarding New York’s commitment to electrify the state’s entire school bus fleet by 2035.
The approved state budget includes a mandate requiring all new school bus purchases to be zero emissions by 2027 and all school buses on the road to be electric by 2035.
BOE member JoAnne Race kicked off the conversation by asking that the issue of electric buses remain on the council’s radar.
She noted that she had received inquiries from community members regarding funding that might be available to facilitate the transition to electricity.
BOE President Dave Mehlbaum announced that the April 27 edition of the Cazenovia Republican misquoted Deputy Superintendent/School Official Thomas Finnerty as saying the May 17 school vote included a proposed purchase of three “diesel engine” buses.
“In fact, no diesel buses are purchased or offered,” Mehlbaum said. “. . . Unfortunately, the Cazenovia Republican added the word “diesel” inaccurately, which then prompted someone to write a letter to the editor asking people to vote against buses. »
According to Mehlbaum, the district has been replacing its diesel buses with “much cleaner” ones for at least four years; the three buses in the May 17 proposal are gasoline-powered.
Mehlbaum suggested that the transition to electric buses be discussed early on at facilities committee meetings, as current facilities in the district lack the necessary charging infrastructure.
“If we were to approve three electric buses tomorrow. . . they’re going to sit like a monument on Route 20 because we don’t have charging stations for them, which cost upwards of $200,000 to $300,000 apiece,” he said. “We would need to do a capital project – plan one, vote on one, design one. So we’re probably a year or two away from a capital project — which would ultimately raise people’s taxes — before we can even consider buying electric buses, which cost four times as much. . . I would like to step up and push for electric vehicles, but unfortunately we are not there yet. This is definitely a conversation we should start.
Mehlbaum suggested that a discussion of the district’s infrastructure needs be put on the agenda for the July facilities committee meeting.
The committee will then report back to the BOE at its next public meeting.
Finnerty then informed the council that, at the suggestion of a ratepayer, he had started looking into hybrid buses earlier that day.
He explained that he contacted the district’s transportation supervisor, who immediately contacted bus suppliers in the district, including New York Bus Sales and Leonard Bus Sales.
According to Finnerty, Leonard Bus Sales responded, via email, to say they had no hybrid buses available as the focus is now on electric buses.
“You can’t even get hybrid buses now because of the state mandate to go electric,” Finnerty said. “She commented, ‘If you were to plan infrastructure today, it would take you about two years to complete before you could put a bus in your fleet. Ordering the bus is the easy part.’”
Superintendent Chris DiFulvio then announced that National Grid had already been contacted and planned to work on an assessment of the district.
In the meantime, DiFulvio has volunteered to serve on a committee with select OCM BOCES (Onondaga-Cortland-Madison Board of Cooperative Educational Services) superintendents to further investigate electrical bus/infrastructure.
He also volunteered to be part of a statewide group related to electric buses.
Later in the discussion, Finnerty clarified that he supported the transition to electric buses for the good of the environment and that his intention was simply to inform the council that there would be obstacles.
He also announced that on May 25, he, the facilities manager, transportation manager and bus mechanics will attend an event in East Syracuse where they can see an electric bus and learn about infrastructure needs.
The council also discussed the potential electrification of other district-owned vehicles and whether the district would qualify for funding to help transition to electric buses.
“I will keep you informed and we will make informed decisions,” Finnerty said. “This is what we do.”
Finnerty then said that based on the district’s “2030 and beyond” long-term facilities plan, the next planned project is a bus garage.
“As for timing, we would be looking at a vote to approve this project one year from December, so December 2023,” he said. “The timing really couldn’t be better for us as we might have enough information at this stage to plan the electric bus infrastructure etc.”
At this point, Finnerty said, the district can afford an approximately $5.5 million tax-neutral project.
“But it was pre-electric bus infrastructure, so it will be interesting,” he said. “But the timing is good, I think.”
BOE SDCC meetings are usually held at 6:30 p.m. on the third Monday of each month. Meeting dates are listed on the district website and school calendar. For more information, visit cazenoviacsd.com/board-of-education.