Thanks to Gov. McMaster’s override of funding to replace school buses, there has been a lot of attention paid to the state owned school bus fleet. The Greenville County School board took action at last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting to review our bus fleet, explore where we found the fleet to be in violation of SC Code of Laws, and to make recommendations on local and state policy changes we believe will:
- Improve safety of our bus fleet
- Allow for a sustainable replacement cycle for the fleet moving forward
- Reduce operational costs
The entire board presentation is found here on the Greenville County School board website, along with our specific policy recommendations. In summary, we recommended the following changes:
- Immediate replacement of 1995-1996 Type D Rear engine buses. These buses have a higher propensity for “thermal events” (aka presence of smoke and fire). Thermal event incidents have quadrupled over the past 10 years, and 75% of the thermal events occuring in the past 20 years were on these 1995-1996 buses. In accordance with SC Code of Laws 59-67-530, SC General Assembly must immediately fund replacement of all 1995-1996 Type D Rear-engine buses by overriding Gov. McMaster’s veto and allocating funds necessary to replace the remainder of the 1995-1996 buses from the state owned fleet. In accordance with SC Code of Laws 59-67-543, General Assembly should prohibit SCDE from including 1995-1996 buses in allocations made to local school districts. These buses are demonstrably unsafe, and the risk has quadrupled over the past decade. To include these bus in our daily routing is a gamble our legislators should not ask local school districts to take.
- Immediate adoption of funding to adhere with state mandated 15-year bus replacement cycle. SC Code of Laws requires our bus fleet to be replaced on a 15 year replacement cycle, and yet nearly half of the buses in our fleet are older than 15 years of age. Older buses are less reliable AND more expensive. Recent estimates found that buses greater than 15 years of age cost $.49/mile to operate *(compared to $.21 for buses newer than 15 years of age). This costs Greenville Taxpayers $396,000/year in additional operational costs. Additionally, 40% of bus breakdowns are due to mechanical issues- resulting in 3,600 late buses last year (or 150,000 late arrivals of students). Students can’t learn if they are stranded on the side of the road in a broken down bus. The General Assembly should annually appropriate the necessary funds for a 15-year bus replacement cycle, as required by statute. SCDE’s current estimated cost to achieve this is $34.1 million per year. SCDE must develop and General Assembly must fund a formula to add additional buses to the school bus fleet to accommodate student growth
- The SC Board of Education should be given the flexibility (and USE the flexibility) to grant waivers to SC Code of Laws 59-67 when Districts have innovative options that could reduce operating costs and decrease reliance on dilapidated bus fleet. For example, local districts should be encouraged to use 14-passenger buses, which do not require a CDL, on rural routes. Additionally, school districts should be allowed to partner with local public transit systems to absorb overhead costs through shared transportation models. We believe that innovation can help reduce costs, improve operational efficiency, and decrease burden on SC Dept of Education.