SHIPROCK — Central Consolidated School District is defending its purchase of a few new rides for some of its employees.

The district received heat this week for purchasing six vehicles, four of which were brand new, for between about $19,000 and $26,000 each.

In total, the district spent about $88,000 on two gently used cars and two new cars for its exceptional programs office, according to a purchase order from the Cooperative Educational Services. The service helps educational entities look for optimally priced products.

An additional two new vehicles were purchased for the district's Title I federal programs office, though their exact cost was not available Friday because the office director could not be reached for comment.

The exceptional programs office now has four vehicles, down from its previous seven

The old ones were in such bad shape that the office put all seven up for auction, according to James Preminger, district spokesman.

"The vehicles were junk," Preminger said, noting that most of them dated back to the late 1990s.

The Title I federal programs office also gave up several vehicles, four to be exact. With the purchase of its two new ones, they now have seven vehicles, versus nine before.

The vehicles were much needed, according to district officials, and they were purchased with funds separate from the district's operational budget.

District employees, parents and students have been in an uproar in recent weeks because of shortfalls in the district's operational budget that have resulted in the shuffling and cutting of programs and employees.

Randy Manning, a member of the district school board, questioned the vehicles' purchases Tuesday evening during a public hearing about the budget.

District officials stood by the purchases.

"I have to have safe vehicles for my staff," said Eric James, exceptional programs office coordinator.

The office consists of about 30 employees focused on offering services to special needs students, including those who need speech therapy, physical therapy, or assistance from social services.

"I have several folks that travel daily," James said.

Many of the employees are required to travel throughout the 3,000 square-mile district, often to the students' schools and sometimes to their homes.

The employees are allowed to use the vehicles once they have arrived at their worksite during the work week. They also infrequently can use them to travel long distances, to Albuquerque or Phoenix, usually for training.

James argues that, in the long run, purchasing the vehicles, using district maintenance workers to repair them, and not having to compensate employees for mileage is cheaper.

"They pay for themselves over the years," James said.

Jenny Kane covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and jkane@daily-times.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jenny_Kane