The Public School System will open classes next week with “more than enough” number of buses and vans to transport thousands of students from kindergarten to 12th grade.
Jack Diaz, acting manager for the Pupil Transportation Department, and associate commissioner Glenn Muña told Saipan Tribune yesterday that there are a total of 30 vehicles that will be servicing public school students starting Sept. 3.
For Saipan schools, PSS has 16 buses assigned to drop and pickup students from various villages. All these buses have 66-seat capacity and will each be manned by one driver. Eight vans for special education students will also be available on Saipan, of which three are 14-seaters while five are wheelchair lifters. Special education vans will each have one driver and a conductor assigned for every trip, or a total of 16 personnel for transporting students with special needs.
Rota and Tinian public schools, according to the two officials, will each have two buses and one van for special education students, for a total of six fleet altogether for the two islands.
Muña disclosed that for Saipan schools, PSS has three backup buses ready to replace existing fleets that will encounter emergency problems during operational hours.
With 15 bus drivers for Saipan schools, Muña said they are anticipating “no double trips” this school year. He described this as good news because all students will be on time for their classes.
To illustrate, Muña said that PSS has designated two buses for the San Roque areas. The first bus is assigned to pick up students while the other will drop them off after school hours.
To ensure the readiness of the Pupil Transportation Department for the new school year, Muña said all drivers have been recertified for defensive driving while continuing some other trainings related to their job.
Last school year, PSS transported about 3,000 students daily on three islands.
Besides the 15 bus drivers for Saipan schools, PSS has also six drivers for special education vans and six other conductors. Total routes this school year is 16.
‘Only $40K left to maintain buses’
If there’s one thing the Pupil Transportation Department is concerned about, it’s the unfunded cost to maintain the school buses and the state-of-the-art bus depot in Lower Base, Diaz said.
Saipan Tribune learned that the balance of federal funds to maintain the fleet from last fiscal year amounts to just $30,000 to $40,000, which will have to be spread out the entire school year.
Since last year, PSS lost the opportunity to directly receive funding from the Federal Transportation Administration after the CNMI created the Commonwealth Office of Transportation Administration, which is now the direct authority on all FTA grants to the CNMI.
In terms of fuel, Diaz disclosed that PSS spends about $25,000 each month on fuel cost for three islands. This translates to about $300,000 a year for all fuel costs incurred by PSS.
Funding for fuel is expected to be drawn from the next fiscal year’s budget, which remains pending at the Legislature.