District 65 works to upgrade from diesel-fueled buses to electric bus fleet


Ysa Quiballo/The Daily Northwestern

Assisted by a grant, D65 is making inroads towards purchasing an electric bus for their Head Start program – the first of its kind in the nation.

Kunjal Bastola, Reporter

Earlier this year, Evanston/Skokie School District 65’s Head Start Program, an early childhood learning center, received a $230,000 grant to upgrade a diesel-fueled school bus to an electric one.

The district received the grant from the state’s Driving a Cleaner Illinois Program, but the program did not receive more money to grow District 65’s electric bus fleet.

“We are disappointed to not have been selected in the latest round of funding,” District 65 spokesperson Melissa Messinger wrote in an email to The Daily. “We believe strongly in continuing to pursue this environmental initiative in accordance with our sustainability commitments.”

The district was already facing issues with transportation, including bus shortages, before it wasn’t selected for the grant.

“The largest part of our increase year over year in transportation costs is the rising fuel costs,” said Joseph Hailpern, a member of the District 65 school board and chair of the district’s Personnel, Building & Grounds and Finance Committee. 

Halipern said the district needs to lessen its fuel dependency in order to align itself with Evanston’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan goals.  

District 65 is still pursuing other grants to increase the number of electric buses, Halipern said. 

But not everyone in District 65 thinks electric buses are the right way for the district to increase sustainability. District 65 teacher assistant Kelliann McArthur said converting the fleet to be all-electric will not help its current students. 

“I don’t know that switching to electric buses isn’t gonna help anything but the environment,” McArthur said. 

McArthur said the transition has meant there is now a shortage of buses. She highlighted that the district had to change school start and end times because there weren’t enough buses. 

She added that sometimes buses do not arrive promptly after school and teachers have to wait with their students.

According to Julie Vogel-Lepley, a special education teacher at the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center, the shortage has meant some buses now have to take longer routes. 

For students in the Special Education program, being on the bus for too long can be overstimulating, and there has been work to begin to create routes specific for these students, she said. 

While it is unclear whether an electric bus fleet will alleviate these issues, advocates say it will help with environmental and economic problems that diesel-fueled vehicles cause. But some community members disagree.

“Getting electric buses – yeah, it’ll help the children’s grandchildren, but it’s not doing anything for the kids today,” McArthur said. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @kunjal_bastola

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