Lodi Unified School District will move forward with both the Valley Robotics Academy and the purchase of five new clean-air buses.

During Tuesday night’s meeting, the LUSD Board of Education voted 6 - 1 to approve a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with San Joaquin Delta College, with whom the district will collaborate to establish Valley Robotics Academy.

“My understanding is that Delta College’s administration has approved this MOU,” Jeff Palmquist, assistant superintendent for LUSD, said.

Now that the board has approved the MOU, the district may be able to offer classes in robotics, drones and automation to seventh- through 12th-grade students at Delta College in Stockton as well as an LUSD school site that has yet to be determined.

The district has already identified $2,483,805.60 to fund the new school, which is estimated to cost $3,189,927.88 over the next three years.

Under the MOU, Delta College will provide afternoon courses for career technical education certificates and associate degrees at its Stockton campus, as well as core program and general education courses at the LUSD site.

Valley Robotics students will also have access to all support services offered to Delta students, such as counseling, computer laboratories and student email addresses as well as Delta’s library, cafeteria and bookstore.

In return, LUSD will provide administrative staff, faculty and counselors for Valley Robotics, as well as textbooks, reference materials and other necessary resources for the school’s curriculum.

LUSD will also provide opportunities for students from other districts to transfer to VRA, as well as transportation for LUSD students to Delta’s campus.

“I really appreciate all the work that’s gone into this,” Board President Gary Knackstedt said. “I think it’s time to get it done.”

Board Clerk Ron Freitas was especially glad to learn that the school could be up and running as soon as August.

“This is really, really exciting that we’re not just talking about getting this done, we are getting this done,” Freitas said.

The board also voted unanimously to approve a master agreement with the California Department of Transportation allowing the district to access federal and state grants to help fund the purchase of five buses fueled by compressed natural gas (CNG) to replace five older, diesel-fueled buses.

The district was first approved in March 2014 for a grant from Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) and the San Joaquin Council of Governments (SJCOG) to replace nine diesel buses with new CNG vehicles.

The buses cost approximately $214,000 each, resulting in a total estimated cost of $1,071,000 for all five buses.

The CMAQ grant will provide $481,500 in funds, and the district will contribute $420,000 from two of its transportation funds and $168,500 from its general fund to purchase the five new buses.

“Compressed natural gas is about as clean as you can get,” Leonard Kahn, chief business officer for Lodi Unified School District said on Monday.

Diesel buses produce 27.45 grams of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter per mile, Kahn said, whereas CNG buses produce only 0.16 grams per mile.

Despite their lower emission levels, Kahn said CNG buses have a range of approximately 350 miles while diesel buses have a range of 700 miles, meaning that CNG buses must be refueled more often at central fueling stations such as the district’s bus depot.

“The district budgets about $12,915 per semester for CNG fuel,” Kahn said.

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