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School gets new ride
It didn't roll into town with a big red bow, but Willows Unified School District's new Blue Bird 78-passenger school bus couldn't have been a better Christmas present.
The 2012 school bus, which the California Highway Patrol certified for use Friday, will be put into operation Jan. 7 when students return to school from holiday break.
The bus was delivered to the district on Thursday — clean as a whistle and with that new-car smell.
"I'm so excited," said Rosa Hernandez, Willows Unified bus driver, after A-Z Bus Sales of Sacramento turned over the keys. "I can't wait to drive it."
Although certified to drive the $155,000 machine, Hernandez said she will have to get use to being behind the wheel before she starts hauling children.
"I just need to get the feel of her," she said. "A lot of the gizmos and gadgets are different."
The new bus replaces the district's 1977 Crown, which served the school district for 35 years.
Willows Unified received a $124,000 state grant over the summer to purchase the bus, officials said.
The district's cost was $30,000.
Recently retired Business Director Betty Skala said getting its first new bus in 12 years was the most positive financial thing in her four-year tenure, which was marked by deep budget and program cuts.
"It's something tangible that you can put your hands on," she said.
It is also the first time in history that Willows students will ride to school, sporting events and field trips in complete style.
The bus is the first in the district to have air conditioning, a factory-installed video system with four cameras and enhanced recording capability, and over-the-shoulder seat belts.
California has required three-point, lap-shoulder belts installed on all busses manufactured after 2005, said Dave Anderson, A-Z sales manager.
The new Blue Bird also has a state-of-the art emission system that virtually puts zero pollutants into the air.
Ashlynn Geiger was the first student to ride on the bus Thursday, when an A-Z driver took district officials, including her father, trustee Jeromy Geiger, for a test drive through Willows.
"It's kind of weird," Ashlynn said. "I've never been on a bus with seat belts before. I will probably use them though. That way if we have a rollover, I won't squish my head."
Superintendent Mort Geivett said the school board will discuss a seat belt policy in January.
Although California requires seal belts to be installed on new buses, there is no law mandating they be used by students, Geivett said.
Trustee Jeromy Geiger, who helped finalize the order over the summer, said he was pleased with the new bus, even though the luxury of having air-conditioning was controversial.
The air-conditioning added an addition $10,000 to the cost.
"It was sort of a double-edge sword," Geiger said. "Some thought it was a good thing; others thought it was an unnecessary expense."
Geiger said the district decided the air-conditioning was a good investment because comfortable environments promote better behavior on extended trips, and protects the wellness of students and driver.
The lengthy life expectancy and fuel economy of the new bus also make the air-conditioning a smart investment, he said.
In January, the school board is expected to discuss submitting another grant request to replace its 1984 Crown.