Saturday, July 09, 2005

Let's Ride: School Bus Politics In The Palmetto State

School officials in Louisville, Kentucky, decided to replace 73 school busses, most of which were around 13 years old, with brand-new ones. The State of South Carolina couldn't pass-up a bargain:

Saddled with an aging fleet of school buses, and a scarcity of parts to keep them on the road, the South Carolina Department of Education announced Tuesday it bought 73 used buses — for $3,625 each — from a school system in Louisville, Ky.

State Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum acknowledged the purchase was unusual but said “the safety of students to and from school ... (and) stretching the dollar as far as I can, given the appropriations each year from the General Assembly,” are priorities.

State Sen. John Land, D-Clarendon, called the purchase “a strategy of necessity. Those older buses were costing them more to repair and keep on the road than it should have.”

“I’m embarrassed as a South Carolinian that we, as a General Assembly and as a government, are not funding our children’s transportation to and from school,” Land said.

The Kentucky buses, which average about 13 years in age, will replace vehicles purchased between 1982 and 1984, the Education Department said. The agency submitted a sealed bid of $264,625 for all 73 buses. It will use unclaimed lottery prize money for them.

The sticker price on a new bus is $54,385; the state also expects to take delivery on 61 new vehicles this fall.

South Carolina is the only state to own and maintain a statewide fleet of school buses.

What does this say about South Carolina's education-spending priorities when it comes to items that directly affect children? Public schools in this state are challenged, to say the least. Tamassee-Salem High, which is closest to where we are vacationing, has a graduation rate of only 73.5%. Maybe they ought to take the money saved and invest it in interventions designed to increase the graduation rate in rural high schools.
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