South Carolina school systems are fearful they are about to be handed a bill for tens of millions of dollars by the state legislature.
That bill, they fear, could start coming due this week as S.C. House members begin work on a proposal to require the state’s school districts to operate their own school bus systems or contract those operations out to private companies.
Currently, South Carolina is the only state in the nation that owns and operates its own school bus fleet. That fleet, all agree, is in pitiful shape. The average bus is about 14 years old and has more than 200,000 miles.
Advocates say getting the state out of the school bus business will benefit both the state – in over its head, running a massive bus system – as well as the local school districts, who will gain control over bus routes, bus stops and get new buses. It also will get the state out of business that it has no business being in.
“For the state, it gets us out of the bus business that we’re running so poorly right now. There will be big savings in efficiencies for the state,” said state Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, the bill’s primary sponsor. “For the school districts, they get more local control. They can sit down with a bus company and work out the details of a bus system that works for their specific district.”