The Pickerington Local School District Board of Education this week approved the purchase of two school buses to transport students with special needs.

The Pickerington Local School District Board of Education this week approved the purchase of two school buses to transport students with special needs.

In its last scheduled meeting before the start of school Monday, Aug. 19, the board Monday, Aug. 12, voted 4-0 to spend a total of $161,344 for two, 54-passenger buses.

The buses, which are lift-equipped, will be owned by the district and are designed to serve students in wheelchairs and with other special needs, according to district officials.

"These are two buses to replace two buses that may be taken out of service," said Vince Utterback, Pickerington Local School District business manager.

The action followed the board's approval last month to purchase an 84-passenger bus for $88,707.

The three latest purchases will bring the total of buses owned by the district to 20, according to Dave Decsman, transportation consultant for the PLSD.

Although Cincinnati-based Petermann Ltd. provides transportation services for the district by contract and provides its own company-owned buses to the district, Decsman said the PLSD purchases its own buses when finances are available.

The district does so, he said, because it costs the district less money when Petermann transports students via district buses than it does when students are shuttled on the private company's buses.

"The district buys its own buses because if the board supplies the bus we pay $271.19 per day for that bus," Decsman said. "If it's a Petermann bus, it costs the district about $316.25 a day.

"By us buying a bus, we save virtually the purchase price over the course of about 10 or 11 years," Decsman said. "We save $8,020.68 per bus a year when we provide our own bus."

Decsman said the useful life of a school bus to the district is about 13 or 14 years, although some have lasted longer.

The district hired Petermann to provide transportation services to the district in 2010. At that time, the board approved a five-year, $22.41 million contract with the company.

Last year, the Ohio Department of Education recognized Pickerington for busing efficiency during the 2011-12 school year.

In its "Efficiency Targets" report for the 2011-12 school year, the ODE stated the district had the 30th-largest fleet of assigned buses in the state, but it was 14th in the number of students served at 5,474.

Additionally, that study ranked the district second with a ridership ratio of 1.28. That ratio measures the number of transportation-eligible students a district has who ride a school bus.

At the time the report was issued, the ODE provided each Ohio school district with a target number of transportation-eligible students that should be riding each school bus. A number exceeding 1.0 meant a district was exceeding its target performance.

Only five of the 15 districts that transport 5,000 students or more reported ridership ratios of more than 1.0, according to the 2011-12 study.

Decsman said Petermann drives and maintains the district-owned buses. The only difference, he said, is the district assumes less costs when the company uses a district-owned bus.

"Petermann takes really good care of the buses, both theirs and ours," he said.

In addition to the lift equipment on the two buses approved for purchase at Monday's meeting, Decsman noted they are configured differently than typical school buses to provide for better access for students in wheelchairs and with other mobility issues.