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Wisconsin schools unveil new fleets of electric buses this fall

Last year, federal government announced plans to award 15 Wisconsin districts more than 60 electric buses

The front of an electric school bus is shown with its lightning bolt logo
A Lion electric school bus is seen on display in Austin, Texas, on Feb. 22, 2023. Eric Gay/AP Photo

Students in the Palmyra-Eagle Area School District will have a quieter, more environmentally friendly ride to school this year as the district plans to unveil its new fleet of electric buses.

The district originally planned to use the buses at the start of the school year, but district Superintendent Ryan Krohn said a delay means the new plan is to have them ready by mid-September.

A $2.4 million grant thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law means the district will have six new electric school buses. The funding will also help cover charging stations, Krohn said.

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Without the grant, he said, the district would be looking for cost savings somewhere else each year. Palmyra-Eagle is a few years removed from nearly dissolving.

“Transportation costs for school districts are one of those areas that we try to do everything we can to be as efficient as possible so we can keep more dollars in the classroom,” Krohn said recently on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Morning Show.”

There will be savings on matters such as fuel, but Krohn said other positive aspects from this change include educational opportunities, infrastructure changes and environmental benefits.

The district is working with Delavan-based Dousman Transport. Larry Kirkley, the company’s vice president, said on “The Morning Show” that the buses can run about 135 miles per charge. That distance might be less than other electric buses, but he said it will cover the district’s morning and afternoon routes.

Covering extracurricular activities will be another matter, however. Krohn said the district still has a few vans for smaller teams or groups to use. Dousman has other diesel vehicles Palmyra-Eagle can use, too. And as more districts bring on electric buses, there will be more charging stations throughout the state, Krohn said.

Last fall, the federal government announced its plans to give 15 Wisconsin school districts grant money to buy more than 60 of the state’s first-ever electric school buses.

READ MORE: Kids to ride electric school buses in 15 Wisconsin school districts

Drivers will receive training on how to drive the buses, Kirkley said. Dousman was still hiring as of July, but he said the company has the full complement of drivers needed to cover its schools.

The buses run on air brakes instead of hydraulic ones. While the buses are quieter, Kirkley said he doesn’t believe they will be more dangerous for pedestrians. Drivers pay attention and work to anticipate movements around the bus, he said.

Students won’t be the only ones learning about electric vehicles. Krohn wants to host rides for parents, grandparents and community members to see the new buses.

“We’re really excited about this,” he said.

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