Senate budget would delay new school buses


The proposed budget would cut the amount the state would spend on replacing old school buses in half.

The reason for cutting school bus replacements seems clear. It would save the state millions of dollars. However, many parents and school officials say there are some very real, not-so-hidden costs to those savings that add up to a net loss for kids and school districts.

Across the state, more than 13,000 school buses roll out every day taking nearly 800,000 students to school.

According to the Department of Public Instruction, almost 2,000 of those buses will be replaced next year if the current law isn't changed.

Right now, school buses are taken off the road after 200,000 miles. The State Senate wants to up that to 250,000 miles to save $28 million.

"Potentially, we're going to have a lot more buses on the road breaking down," said Wake County parent Amy Lee.

Lee knows what it means when a school bus breaks down. It happened to her son.

"It was 98 degrees, no A/C, and no water or food, and there were kids that, if their parents couldn't come get them it took hours," said Lee.

The ABC11 I-Team has taken a hard look at school bus safety. It's something Wake County has wrestled with, and Wake officials say, while they've righted the ship, they're concerned about the move to keep buses on the road longer.

"If we were to increase the mileage of replacement before replacements can be done, we're going to be running into a danger zone," said Wake County Public School System spokeswoman Renee McCoy.

McCoy says, under the current law, 82 school buses should be replaced next year on the state's dime. However, if the State Senate gets its way, that number will drop to zero. McCoy says that will push repair costs onto the school system.

"As much as some may say there's a cost savings to be realized, when you're having to pay for it on the back end, there really is no cost savings," said McCoy.

Lee is more worried about the safety of it all, and what having older school buses on the road, could mean for the kids on those buses.

"Getting children safely to and from school is part of the public school's responsibility," said Lee.

Compounding the potential problem next year is the fact no money was allocated for school bus replacement this year, and that about twice as many buses as usual are up for retirement -- almost 2,000. The State Senate budget would only replace about 600.

Critics say this just delays the problem under the future.

Lawmakers in the State Senate that came up with the idea did not respond to requests from ABC11.

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