Students in two Midlands counties will be riding on brand new school buses next year thanks to millions in new money the state received in a legal settlement with Volkswagen after the German automaker was accused in 2015 of cheating on diesel emissions tests.
On Tuesday, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster said the first round of the state’s nearly $34 million settlement — $9.3 million — will pay for three new public transit buses and 78 new propane school buses, 60 of which are headed for Horry, Lexington and Richland districts.
Lexington 1 schools will get 22 of the Thomas Built propane school buses. Richland 2 will get 18 new school buses. The other buses are heading to the coast. Horry County schools will get 20 buses and Beaufort County schools will get 18.
The S.C. Department of Education chose these districts, in part, because of the high number of aging 1988 buses each district had on the road. Another factor, the agency said, is these school districts have the ability to maintain propane buses.
McMaster announced the new bus purchase alongside state schools chief Molly Spearman, adding it was a “good day” for the state of South Carolina. He thanked Spearman and Ray Farmer, director of the state’s Department of Insurance, for disbursing the money.
South Carolina’s aging school buses have been a thorn in the side for the state’s school districts, students and parents.
The state has retired all of its fire-prone 1995 and 1996 school buses, and after the first round of the state’s Volkswagen settlement rids the state of 78 older buses, about 400 or so buses manufactured in 1988 and 1990 still will be operating, said S.C. Education Department spokesman Ryan Brown.
Within the next two to three years, the state’s Education Department expects to have every 1988 and 1990 school bus off the road, Brown said, using money they hope to receive through the next round of the Volkswagen settlement and money doled out by state budget writers.
“You get a significant cost savings from using new buses,” Brown said, adding the 1988-era school buses cost about 40 cents a mile to operate, versus the newer buses at about 21 cents a mile. “It’s less money the state is spending on fuel and maintenance.”