COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina Department of Education (DOE) has purchased 24 used school buses from an Alabama district that replaced them with new vehicles. The new purchase marks the third time that South Carolina has bought used school buses in the past six years.
The DOE bought 72 1992 model vehicles in 2005 and 81 more last year, all from Kentucky school districts, as SBF previously reported. Last year's purchase included 1990 to 1999 models, and agency officials said the used buses have performed well.
Although the South Carolina General Assembly approved an annual bus replacement cycle in 2007, it has not provided any funds to upgrade the state's oldest-in-the-nation bus fleet in the last two years. To bid on the Alabama buses at auction, the DOE used money it obtained from selling to scrap metal companies the skeletal remains of South Carolina buses cannibalized for replacement parts.
State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex said that buying the 24 Alabama buses, which have an average age of 11 years, would allow his agency to retire 23- and 24-year-old buses. Those retired vehicles will be cannibalized for parts to service other old buses in South Carolina's fleet for which parts are expensive or hard to find.
"We're doing the best we can with the resources we have," Rex said. "This isn't the best solution, obviously, but it does allow us to retire some extremely old vehicles at no additional cost to the state. Newer buses don't break down as much, they have better safety features and emission controls, and they get better mileage."
State Transportation Director Donald Tudor said DOE staff bid on 44 buses being retired by Talladega County in Alabama. South Carolina's 24 winning bids averaged about $8,000, and mileages on the used buses range from 44,000 to 110,500.
He also said that the Alabama purchase leaves more than 1,100 buses in South Carolina's fleet that are older than 1990 models, although the DOE uses service vehicles that are more than 30 years old.
Rex has urged the General Assembly to conduct a detailed, comprehensive study of the state's overall tax structure and to develop an adequate, equitable and efficient state revenue system. He said the on-again, off-again funding to replace aging school buses is evidence of a dysfunctional process.
Tudor said the DOE would continue to monitor other states that might make used buses available for purchase.