Politics & Government

Schools chief: SC schools need $95 million to buy 1,000 school buses

S.C. Education Superintendent Molly Spearman stands in the aisle of a 2016 South Carolina school bus, alongside Tim Camp, transportation director for the S.C. Department of Education.
S.C. Education Superintendent Molly Spearman stands in the aisle of a 2016 South Carolina school bus, alongside Tim Camp, transportation director for the S.C. Department of Education. bmarchant@thestate.com

S.C. schools Superintendent Molly Spearman Monday asked the Legislature for $95 million in buy 1,000 new buses.

Some school children are riding in buses that are nearly 30 years old, raising concerns about reliability, safety and the cost to taxpayers for the maintenance and fuel needed to keep the aging fleet on the road.

The state’s plan to phase out older buses is not working, receiving only “episodic” funding, Spearman said Monday, asking for a one-time injection of $95 million to buy new buses.

“I wish it had not come to such a large amount,” Spearman said at a press conference in front of the State House, where the Legislature convenes Tuesday. But, for too long, “school buses have gone to the bottom of the list” while setting the state’s spending priorities.

Spearman also wants legislators to increase the recurring money for the 5,500-strong, state-owned bus fleet to $10 million a year from $3 million, plus another $2.5 million to combat employee turnover.

“There is a national and statewide shortage of bus drivers,” Spearman said, adding Education Department school bus technicians are paid less than their counterparts at the state Transportation Department.

Some S.C. students are riding on buses made in 1988, Spearman said. Of the 1,800 buses purchased by the state in 1995, 45 percent are still on the road — more than 20 years later, she added.

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