By Robert Kittle
South Carolina schools have started the new school year without any new school buses, despite having the oldest fleet in the nation.
Richland District 2, which started classes Wednesday, had three buses breakdown before picking up a student. Transportation supervisor Brian Mahelsky says, “One didn't start. One got out of the yard and then developed a problem with its air pressure, couldn't get brake pressure. Had to stop. And we had another, right over here in the lot, once it got rolling a little it wouldn't engage in gear.”
The breakdowns delayed the students on two routes for about an hour each.
The average school bus in South Carolina is 15.5 years old with more than 220,000 miles on it.
State Department of Education spokesman Jay W. Ragley says, “State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais requested $48.2 million for next year's budget. He received approximately $23.5 million, but most of that's not available right now and probably won't become available until sometime next year. And so while there's no buses that are going to be purchased right now, we hope to be able to buy buses sometime next year with that $23-and-a-half million, if all of it is eventually realized and deposited to the Department of Education.”
When it buys new buses, the department tries to make sure each school district gets at least one new one.
State lawmakers passed a law in 2007 recommending that the state replace 1/15th of the school bus fleet every year, meaning no bus would ever be more than 15 years old. But it's not a requirement, and lawmakers have provided the funding to buy enough buses only once during the six years the law has been in effect.