PALMDALE — Thieves stole catalytic converters from nine Palmdale School District special education buses over the weekend, temporarily disrupting education for about 200 students.
By the afternoon, the transportation department was able to restructure the bus routes to ensure students would be home on time.
Drivers discovered the theft when they started the vehicles, Monday morning.
“How you know you turn it on and it makes a lot of noise,” Palmdale School District Superintendent Raul Maldonado said in a phone call Monday afternoon.
The District notified parents the buses would be late picking up their children.
“We do apologize to the parents because of that, but it was out of our control,” Maldonado said.
The District hired security to patrol the bus yard until it can install an alarm system. The estimated cost to replace the catalytic converters is between $20,000 to $25,000.
All vehicles made after 1974 are required to have catalytic converters to reduce vehicle emissions and improve air quality. The devices are attractive to thieves because they are made with precious metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium. As of Monday, a one-ounce bar of Rhodium retails for $16,900, according to MoneyMetals.com.
The District was targeted previously about three months ago. Thieves stole catalytic converters off five large box trucks that deliver food and child nutrition to schools and one Palmdale Promise school van.
Palmdale School District isn’t alone. In 2020, there were an average of 1,203 catalytic converter thefts per month, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. The District can’t replace the missing catalytic converters because they are on backorder. The shortage also drives the price up.
“We don’t really know how long before we can actually get them,” Maldonado said.
He added they worked with the bus management to possibly borrow buses or find other buses to use to prevent any delays in transporting students this morning.
“It’s unfortunate somebody would damage our buses but indirectly also damage education for our students,” he said.
Once the District gets the replacement catalytic converters, it has to spend money to hire mechanics to install them. The theft also requires additional manpower to secure the parts as well as bus drivers waiting for a bus to drive.
Earlier this year, the Lancaster and Palmdale sheriff’s held catalytic converter engraving events, where motorists could get the catalytic converter on their vehicle engraved with the license plate number.
“We’re looking at different options,” Maldonado said in reference to how the District will secure its vehicles in the future.
They are also looking at better lighting and possibly changing the type of fencing the surrounds the bus yard to prevent thieves from cutting it.