Horry County Schools eying 20 replacement school buses

Horry County School’s fleet of 109 district-owned buses might be getting an upgrade soon.

The district plans to bring a recommendation to the Board of Education at their next meeting for 20 new buses, said John Gardner, chief financial officer for the district.

All the buses will be funded through the general fund, and the district has already set aside $840,000 for the replacements. The board has also planned to replace 10 buses during the 2015-16 school year, Gardner said.

The district needs new buses because of the wear and tear on decades-old buses, Wright said. The extreme age of some buses occasionally cause operational problems for the district, though a student never rides an unsafe bus, Wright said.

“We never have a bus go out that’s not safe or completely operational to the children,” Wright said.

Sixteen buses will be used for regular transit, and four will be used as activity buses. The district originally planned for only 10 buses, but added 10 more to speed up the replacement cycle.

“Some of these buses are from 1987,” said Jim Wright, director of transportation for the district. “We’re trying to get all our buses into a fleet of no more than 15 years of age.”

The district owns 59 activity buses and 40 transit buses. There are 303 state-owned buses in use in Horry County, but state regulations require those buses cannot be used for students within one and a half miles of a school.

That’s where the district’s buses come into play.

“The district is going above and beyond what is required by the state, because these kids need a ride to school,” Wright said.

Current buses seat 60 students, Wright said, but the new buses have room for 65 students. All new school buses will not be delivered until the summer, Gardner said.

Every bus is inspected during the summer and maintenance staff fix any problems, Wright said. The age of the buses, however, necessitate repairs throughout the school year.

The district has spent $76,000 on bus work orders since August, Wright said. There have been 586 bus work orders since August. About $34,000 is spent on annual repairs, so replacing the older buses will cut down some of the costs, Wright said.

“Any problems we find with the buses, whether it’s big or little, means we have to call the maintenance department,” Wright said.

“They had the plan to add x-number of buses per year, as to make it a lesser financial pill to swallow. But it was the board’s request to accelerate the oldest of our fleet,” said Teal Harding, district spokeswoman.

Horry County Schools’ buses travel 33,888 miles per day and rack up 61.1 million miles every year, according to district data. About 22,500 students ride the bus, and the district has about 373 drivers.

Officials hope to have 30 new buses operating for the 2015-2016 school year, if the board approves the budget as currently proposed, Gardner said.

The district will make a recommendation for 20 new buses at the board’s next meeting on March 23.