COLUMBIA, S.C. — School buses that had been identified as being prone to catch fire have been removed from the state’s fleet.
The South Carolina Department of Education (DOE) confirmed to WCSC that all of the 1995 and 1996 bus models, which accounted for the majority of the state’s over 100 thermal events, were taken from school districts and sent to the state’s fleet office to be scrapped.
State Superintendent Molly Spearman’s office had announced that by New Year’s Day 2019, every bus from those model years would be replaced with a new one, The Post and Courier reports. (Spearman’s office also noted that there have been no bus fires or thermal events reported since the May 2017 incident in Spartanburg, according to the newspaper.)
Ryan Brown, a spokesperson for the state DOE, told WCSC that over the last two fiscal years, the state has purchased 2,100 new school buses, including 116 propane-powered buses, to replace the aging buses.
As SBF previously reported, the state has been working for years on a plan to update its school bus fleet, which is considered to be one of the oldest in the U.S. In January 2017, State Superintendent Molly Spearman asked the General Assembly to fund the replacement of more than 1,000 of the state’s buses that are at least 20 years old, and worked with the state treasurer and legislators to establish South Carolina’s first school bus lease-to-purchase program.
In June of that same year, Gov. Henry McMaster had initially vetoed $20.5 million in funding for hundreds of new school buses in the 2017-18 fiscal year, due to concerns that the funding would come from surpluses from lottery proceeds that voters were promised would go to scholarships. However, the state Legislature overrode that veto in January 2018.
The state DOE’s next goal is to replace the state’s 432 30-year-old buses, Brown told WCSC. State Superintendent Spearman has asked for $5 million in recurring funds and $40 million in non-recurring funds for bus replacement in her budget request for the next fiscal year, according to The Post and Courier.
Brown also told WCSC that the state DOE hopes that a share of the state’s Volkswagen (VW) settlement funds could help cover the costs, as well as for additional buses for counties that have seen their student populations grow.
However, state Rep. Wendell Gilliard is proposing a bill that would require South Carolina to sell or dispose of its fleet by July 1, 2023, turning operations over to school districts to run in-house or contract with companies, in an effort to use an anticipated cost savings to increase teacher salaries, according to WCSC.