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October 25, 2006 | South Carolina Headlines


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South Carolina buys used school buses from Kentucky district that retired them
July 5, 2005

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

EDITOR'S NOTE - The first used school bus purchased from the Jefferson
County (Ky.) School Board can be viewed, along with a 23-year-old South Carolina bus that it will replace, from noon until 1 p.m. at the State Department of Education's Richland County bus maintenance facility. Directions appear at the end of this news release.

COLUMBIA - The South Carolina Department of Education has purchased 73 used school buses from a Kentucky school district that is replacing them
with new vehicles.

State Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum said that buying the 13-year-old buses from the Jefferson County School Board in Louisville would allow her agency to retire all of its remaining 22- and 23-year-old buses.  Those vehicles will then be cannibalized forreplacement parts to service other old buses in South Carolina's fleet for which replacement parts are no longer manufactured.

"An annual replacement cycle for school buses remains the most cost-effective option," Tenenbaum said.  "But until the General Assembly commits to that, we will do the best we can with the resources we have. If that means shopping at clearance sales, that's what we'll do."

Due to rising costs for repairs and diesel fuel, the SDE has been forced to divert appropriations for new bus purchases into maintenance of the existing fleet.  For the $54,000 cost of a new bus, the agency says it can perform major repairs on 12 older vehicles and get them back on the road.  Costs of major component repairs to aging buses - mostly rebuilding of blown engines, transmissions and differentials - have risen by 500 percent over the past five years.

Tenenbaum said the State Department of Education's Office of Transportation had inspected the Kentucky buses, which were originally purchased on specifications similar to South Carolina's.  She added that her agency's transportation staff was very familiar with Louisville's bus maintenance program and gave it high marks.

South Carolina's winning bid was $3,025 per bus, Tenenbaum said. Delivery costs will add an additional $350, making the total purchase price about $3,375 for each vehicle, plus tax.

"Buying new vehicles is undoubtedly the best option," Tenenbaum said. "New buses require fewer repairs, they have more safety features, their engines have better emission control and they get better fuel mileage. But these Kentucky buses will be safe to operate, and we were able to buy them at bargain-basement prices.  It was just too good a deal to pass up."

Don Tudor, who directs the SDE's Office of Transportation, said the Kentucky purchase would allow the SDE to retire its 15 remaining 1982-model buses and its 16 1983-model buses.  The agency operates 117 1984-model buses, and Tudor said the Kentucky purchase would allow 42 of those to be retired.  The remaining 75 21-year-old vehicles would then
be the oldest in South Carolina's fleet, although the SDE uses service vehicles that are more than 30 years old.

Both a Legislative Audit Council report and an independent consultant have called for South Carolina to budget for annual bus purchases.  The SDE favors a system that would retire school buses after they are 15 years old or have more than 250,000 miles on their odometers.

Such a plan would require the purchase of 380 new buses each year (about $22.8 million), and South Carolina's last school bus purchase of that magnitude was 10 years ago.  Since that time, 816 new buses (an average of 90 per year) have been purchased to replace 14 percent of the fleet.  That is the equivalent of a 62-year replacement cycle, Tudor said

A May 2005 national report card by the Union of Concerned Scientists said that South Carolina has the nation's largest percentage of school buses manufactured prior to 1990 (60 percent).  The nonprofit advocacy group tracks the age of school buses because the older vehicles produce far more air pollution than newer ones.  At the other end of the scale was Delaware, with less than 1 percent of its buses manufactured prior to 1990.

In addition to the 73 used buses from Kentucky, the Education Department has purchased 61 new buses that should be on the road this fall.  Tenenbaum said her agency would continue to monitor bus purchases in other states that might make other used buses available for purchase.

The State Superintendent said a combination of factors - more bus breakdowns, higher diesel fuel costs and low salaries for bus mechanics and drivers - would continue to cause problems statewide.

"Our buses are still safe to operate," Tenenbaum said.  "But they are getting older every day, and we will see increasing numbers of breakdowns and delays in transporting students.  That is absolutely unavoidable, and it's a trend that will continue until the General Assembly commits to funding an annual replacement cycle."

More than half of South Carolina's 670,000 public school students ride a bus to or from school each day.

The facility is located north of Columbia just off Interstate 20.  Take Exit 71 and go north on U.S. 21.  The maintenance shop will be about a mile north on the right.  Upon entering the shop grounds, turn immediately back to the right.

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