Providing safe buses for our schoolchildren is a no-brainer. Unfortunately, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster doesn’t understand that–but, fortunately, the Greenville School Board does.
On June 12, McMaster vetoed $20.5 million for new buses, arguing that the funding source–lottery revenues–should be used exclusively for scholarships. That line of reasoning assumes that we face an either/or proposition. We don’t. But–putting that debate aside for now–nobody can deny the precarious state of our school buses.
South Carolina is the only state that doesn’t give local school districts control over purchasing and maintaining their own buses. Centralized oversight, however, has been nothing short of a disaster. As recently as 2007, an investigation by The Post and Courier (Charleston) determined that South Carolina had “the oldest, most polluting, and least safe bus fleet in the nation.” (For a review of developments since then, see the Dec. 3, 2016 issue of The Post and Courier.) At the time (2007), South Carolina was replacing some of its buses with used ones from other states (for example, Kentucky), buses that had been deemed too old by the states that were selling them to South Carolina (!). Moreover, since 2007 the average age of buses in South Carolina has actually increased from 14 to 15.5 years (over 1,500 buses are more than 20 years old).
Maintaining a dilapidated bus fleet is not only costly, but it can also have serious–even dire–consequences for our children. According to a July 7, 2017 issue of the Greenville News, there were 3,500 bus breakdowns in Greenville County alone during the 2016-2017 school year (180 days)–that’s more than 19 breakdowns per day. These breakdowns are not just an inconvenience: they lead to missed instructional time. Furthermore, Greenville County has 68 buses (Thomas models made in 1995) that are more prone to fires. In early May, one such bus burst into flames while transporting students to Duncan Elementary School in nearby Spartanburg County. Approximately thirty percent of the state’s buses are Thomas models.
To their credit, Greenville School Board members have made a rare public appeal to the county’s legislative delegation to vote to overturn the governor’s veto. Let’s hope for the sake of our children that they do so.