School bus breakdowns in Beaufort County have some people questioning the safety of the rides children take to and from school each day. There have been four bus breakdowns so far this school year, the latest earlier this week.
There have been no injuries so far, but district officials say it’s the inconvenience and time children could spend out of class that should motivate funding for new buses.
On Wednesday, smoke billowed out from beneath the hood of a 1988 model bus. This incident is one of two buses to smoke-out from electrical issues; the other two incidents involved fire, totally the vehicles.
However, the District believes safety is not at stake.
“The problem is not that the buses are not safe. They are safe. The problem is that the older buses aren’t reliable. They break down more often,” District spokesman Jim Foster says.
“When a school bus breaks down, it’s the same situation that you’d get if your car breaks down. It’s a tremendous inconvenience. With school buses, it means that kids are late getting to school and miss class time or it means that they’re late getting home from school in the afternoon and their parents are worried about them,” Foster says.
State owned buses account for most of the Beaufort County fleet. There are 190 buses total, and 149 of them are the older models the State maintains.
“Our hope is that the general assembly will fund the replacement cycle that it passed,” Foster says.
He refers to a statute passed in 2007 mandating buses 15 years or older, or those with 250,000 miles on them be replaced. However, he says the funding has not appeared.
The District does operate other buses, aside from the State-owned fleet; until July 1, they contract with a private-owned company, Durham School Services, and use 41 newer buses that average about 4 years old.
Foster says there are 12,000 students who a ride a bus either to or from school each day. The buses travel 11,000 miles, altogether, in a day.
“It’s fine to say ‘we’re going to replace these buses when they get old’ but then you have to actually pay to replace them,” Foster says.
So far in this year’s legislative session, the House has passed $17.2 million in the budget to allot for bus replacement; that now awaits Senate approval.