The Sparta School District needed a dozen buses Thursday, and the Tomah Area School District delivered.
Tomah loaned 12 buses − and drivers − after school officials in Sparta discovered that several of their buses wouldn’t start in temperatures that plunged to 20 below zero Thursday morning.
Tomah transportation director Jeff Moody was contacted by Sparta shortly after 6 a.m. He then called school district business manager Greg Gaarder.
“I called Mr. Gaarder, and he said, ‘By all means, let’s do this, let’s help them out.’” Moody said.
The private contractor that transports Sparta students, Lamers Bus Lines, had five buses fail earlier in the week but were able to transport students with minimal delays. However, two buses failed at 6:10 a.m. Thursday, and a half hour later, Sparta received word that another 10 were inoperable.
At that point, Sparta made the decision to delay school for two hours and ask Tomah for help.
Tomah, which owns and operates its own bus fleet, conducted normal classroom hours with no bus failures. Because Sparta delayed school for two hours, Tomah could assist without compromising its own transport schedule.
“We were able to run our routes and then run their routes,” Moody said. “We had all our routes done.”
Moody was able to deliver both buses and drivers. He said Sparta called early enough so that Moody could contact drivers while they were still on their Tomah routes.
“We have a great bunch of drivers who in a time like this are willing to step up to the plate,” Moody said.
Moody praised his staff for keeping Tomah’s buses in excellent winter condition.
“Our mechanics are very pro-active as far as maintaining our buses to make sure they’re in good working condition,” he said.
Tomah superintendent Cindy Zahrte said bus maintenance is an important part of the district’s operation.
“I would credit our transportation department and drivers with having established solid protocols and practices which ensure our buses are in top condition and allow for accurate assessment of whether the potential for any problems exists due to the weather,” Zahrte said. “Mr. Moody ... is at work very early on days like this to determine if there are any problems with buses starting.”
A press release from the Sparta district acknowledged Tomah’s help.
“Thank you to the Tomah Area School District for generously sending over buses to help us get students to school for the delayed start,” the release said.
Moody said it’s important for school districts to assist each other.
“We’re all in the same boat,” he said. “Getting kids to school − that’s our job.”