The Lee’s Summit (Mo.) R-7 School District has long been recognized for seeking innovative ways to meet the needs of each student. Like districts across the nation, we are challenged with providing a quality education during difficult economic times.

Recently, district staff members developed a plan that helps us better serve our students and save money through a transition to compressed natural gas (CNG) powered school buses. Savings from this transition have resulted in additional funding for our classrooms and created a more environmentally friendly bus fleet.

A team of staff members worked with business partners to design a plan to convert our school bus fleet from gasoline or diesel to cleaner-burning natural gas. Through this initiative, we have been able to reduce transportation costs for our students, redirecting these funds toward technology infrastructure improvements that enhance both teaching and learning today and in the future.

The Lee’s Summit School District transports approximately 12,000 students daily, translating into more than 4.1 million rides each year on 151 buses to and from school every day. During summer 2013, we launched a district-wide initiative to transition our school bus fleet over the next 10 years away from diesel- and gasoline-powered buses to vehicles powered by natural gas.

Our school district projects that over the course of the next decade, we will cut transportation costs by about $10.5 million, with a portion of the fuel savings paying for new technology infrastructure in our school system. This infrastructure is especially vital as teachers and students use more and more digital devices in day-to-day classroom lessons, school-wide projects and extracurricular activities.

As of this fall, 106 buses, representing roughly 71% of our entire school bus fleet, have been replaced with CNG-powered buses. These positive changes not only benefit our students directly — they provide cleaner air and quieter transportation options for the entire community.

A member of the local community noted that the buses are "much quieter" and they “can't even hear or smell them in the parking lot." Over the next decade, it is projected that the new buses will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 20%.

Nationwide, NGVAmerica reports that there are now more than 150 school districts operating approximately 5,500 natural gas powered vehicles in their fleets to safely transport students and to help improve the air quality for all of us. Our district-wide initiative is the largest school district transition to CNG-powered school buses in the nation.

Dr. David McGehee is the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District superintendent.

Dr. David McGehee is the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District superintendent.

Within Lee’s Summit R-7, reaction from our staff, students and families has been positive regarding the quieter, cleaner buses as well as the technology improvements. Before this transition, our bus fleet was older than we would have preferred due to budget factors. We now have a newer fleet with a 10-year maintenance warranty, saving money and labor and helping us keep the buses operational and on the road.

Last winter, we took our district’s Business Roundtable on a field trip to visit our transportation facility and hear about our transition to CNG-powered vehicles. Feedback from this group of community business leaders was encouraging, and several complimented our district for our willingness to be a trailblazer in clean energy as well as a good steward of district resources.

In all, the transition has been a win-win for our district and community, and we have been pleased with the decision to transition our buses to compressed natural gas.