State superintendent's budget would send more buses to the 'graveyard'

RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WIS) - For months now, WIS has been investigating the state's old, fire-prone school buses after dramatic scenes like one in the Upstate earlier this year.

That bus there was more than 20-years-old when it burst into flames just seconds after dozens of students escaped.

The State Superintendent, Molly Spearman, knows old buses are a problem, and she hasn't been quiet about it.

"We want to have pride in our public school system, and look, when you see these shiny buses coming down the road, it just makes me feel like we're doing what we need to do in South Carolina," she said.

On Thursday, Spearman unveiled her school bus budget request for next year to WIS at the Richland School Bus Shop on Wilson Boulevard. There, a "graveyard" of old, broken down, burned up buses is growing.

Simply put, she wants more money.

Number one, she wants lawmakers to come back in January and override the governor's veto of some lotto funds that would've gone to buses. That would give her a pot of about 17 million dollars to work with, but that won't be enough.

She also wants another $13 million – some of that recurring – to help replace buses regularly. Obviously, newer buses have better safer features, but she said they're also cheaper to maintain.

"This bus that I'm standing in front of, a 1988, costs about 49-cents a mile to operate with parts and fuel versus the new buses next door here that are 21-cents, so we need to be better stewards of taxpayer dollars and get these buses off the road," Spearman said.

Of the old buses, much attention has been paid to the Thomas Rear-Engine 1995 buses, which state education leaders believe are more prone to fires. Spearman said it would cost about $36 million to replace all of them.

Spearman's budget request is just that:  a request. She'll need lawmakers' help to make it a reality.

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