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Elma, McCleary and Satsop school districts team up to save money

The idea of forming a transportation cooperative has been bandied about in the Elma School District for several years. With two smaller school districts now signing on, it looks like the idea may come to fruition.

The Elma district is sorely in need of a new transportation facility, and forming a co-op with the McCleary and Satsop school districts would make the arrangement eligible for up to 75 percent funding from the state. All three districts would then use the Elma facility as a maintenance hub for the fleet of school buses serving the various rural districts.

“We’re setting up an arrangement that would allow all of us to cut costs as much as possible,” said Elma Superintendent Howard King, who is spearheading the effort.

King said there’s even a possibility of the Montesano School District joining in and that officials there are “considering it.” Montesano Superintendent Dan Winter was on vacation earlier this week.

If approved, the lion’s share of the funding would come from the state’s Capital Fund Project, which could fund up to 90 percent of “certain aspects of the project,” King said. In the end, he noted, the Elma School District would need to come up with between 25 to 30 percent of the total costs, and King hopes that recent frugality on the part of the district will keep that burden off the backs of the taxpayers.

“We’ve been trying to save as much money as we can so we could possibly fund our portion ourselves,” said King. “It would be ideal if we didn’t have to go to the voters. There’s a possibility that we could side step that and I think that’s what we would like to do. We would probably try to take care of our portion ourselves. If we can spring it, that’s what we’d like to do.”

Ballpark estimates put total costs of a new transportation facility at around $2 million, but King says nothing is set in stone as of yet. If that is the case, the Elma School District would need to come up with about $500,000 to get the project rolling. He said the McCleary and Satsop districts would likely not be asked to contribute to the seed money, though they would pay rates for maintenance, mechanics and supplies once the co-op is up and running.

“As a matter of fact, we’re meeting with an architect about the project for the first time this week, so we should know more after that,” King said.

Elma district officials tried to set up a co-op some years back with Montesano, but that effort was turned down by Montesano district officials at the time. King said over the years, he and members of the Elma School Board have visited and studied other transportation co-ops that are emerging in other parts of the state.

“There are a few others — I think eight or nine — throughout the state,” King said. “We’ve been throwing this idea around for some time now, so our board is pretty well-versed on it.”