COLUMBIA, S.C. —South Carolina lawmakers begin a new session Tuesday at noon, and the state’s superintendent of education is asking them to make school buses a priority. “We’ve got buses that we’re driving that are 30 years old,” says Superintendent Molly Spearman.
She stood in front of a brand new bus Monday at the Statehouse to ask for millions of dollars to buy new buses, and give drivers and mechanics raises to reduce turnover. The legislature passed a law in 2007 to create a regular school bus replacement cycle, with buses being replaced after 15 years. But the recession hit the next year and lawmakers haven’t funded the law. “We really have just funded our buses based on what was left over. ‘If there’s any money left over we’ll give it to the buses and buy some new buses.’ It’s time we raised this priority to say we’re going to do this,” Spearman told reporters.
She says even though new buses cost money up front, they save taxpayers money in the long run because new buses cost 21 cents a mile to run compared to 49 cents a mile for the older buses, since they get worse gas mileage and often need repairs.
“We’re having some structural issues with some of the buses riding on some of our roads where the buses wobble. We’re also having some electrical issues where we’re having to replace wiring. So, we will never put a bus on the road that is not safe, but there are many that are having to be parked because of that,” Spearman says.
She says half of the state’s bus fleet, or 2,805 buses, is over 15 years old.
She’s asking for enough money to replace over 1,000 of the buses that are 20 years old or more.