Gulf District Schools hope the board of Triumph Gulf Coast will help with new wheels.

Gulf District Schools hope the board of Triumph Gulf Coast will help with new wheels.

Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton said Tuesday that the district is submitting a pre-application to Triumph to secure funding for four buses, roughly half a million dollars.

The board of Triumph Gulf Coast, charged with distributing some $1.5 billion in eight Northwest Florida counties most impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, announced a pre-application process five weeks ago.

The pre-applications, effectively a screening for project eligibility, were mandatory to receive any first-year funding.

They must be received by Nov. 15.

Gulf County, as with the other seven counties, received $15 million, or 5 percent, of the first-year deposit to Triumph.

Those direct allocations soak up just 40 percent of the overall funding.

The county will receive 4 percent in each of the ensuing 14 years, coming out at just over $60 million total.

Warren Yeager, director of the county’s Economic Development Coalition, told school board members that the county’s priority in the first year is to “stand up” something at the Port of Port St. Joe.

The other pre-application being submitted is for the school buses.

Norton said the district is a key transportation player in the event of a emergency or natural disaster and after a busy hurricane season that need was on full display.

For example, the board approved a contract with the local nursing home under which the district would provide transportation in the event of a evacuation.

“Our buses are used in the community to evacuate,” Norton said. “But we have a very aged fleet.”

The district, he added, spent enough money repairing the existing fleet over the past year to purchase a new bus.

Over the past several years, the district has used local capital improvement dollars to purchase seven new buses, two of which are handicap-lift buses.

“We have to have four new buses, two in Wewahitchka and two in Port St. Joe,” Norton said.

And, with other capital priorities, particularly with buildings 50 years and older, that LCI money being earmarked for buses is going to needed elsewhere.

“We want to purchase the buses this way more to alleviate a burden we would have to put on our local tax base,” Norton said. “We are going to have other uses for that money.”

Whether it will be an allowable grant, the board of Triumph will determine.

The district is already seeking funding to establish a welding program at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School using dollars from a pot of money coming to the county through the RESTORE Act, a separate stream of dollars from Triumph.

The Triumph funding, from BP fine dollars, is seen a potentially “a once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity for the county, Yeager said.

By growing and developing the port, he added, all will benefit with new jobs.

“We believe the jobs we get out of that port … it will help everything,” Yeager said. “The port can be a foundation for many other businesses.”

Norton added that jobs bring families and families mean kids and kids mean an increase in student enrollment which means additional funding for the district.

Over the past five years, for example, district enrollment has increased by roughly 100 students, representing an additional $450,000 in funds to the district for operational expenses.

As the number of students grows, Norton added, the district’s ability to add programs increases.

For example, as welding is an aim for Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School, staff is examining the potential of a culinary arts program at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School.

Organization meeting

Prior to Tuesday’s regular meeting, the Gulf County School Board performed its annual organizational meeting.

Brooke Wooten was a unanimous selection as the new chairman, with the board supporting Wooten taking the helm for two years.

The board will still be required by law to undertake an organizational meeting next year, regardless.

Cindy Belin was named the vice-chair.