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Effingham County Schools looking to update bus fleet
District waiting for state funding before purchasing new buses
School buses
More than half of Effingham County School District's school children ride the bus to and from school every day. (File photo.)

By Barbara Augsdorfer, Editor for the Effingham Herald

Even though the Effingham County School District purchased 25 school buses last year, the district is looking for more buses for its fleet – partially due to the district’s growth, and to replace aging vehicles.

Transportation Director Dana King told the school board at its April 10 meeting the district will know the Quality Basic Education (QBE) funding it will receive from the state in May or June. According to the Georgia Department of Education, QBE funding is calculated based on student enrollment numbers, years of teacher experience, and school programs such as special ed, gifted, etc. Those funds will be supplemented with Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) funds to purchase new buses.

According to the district website, of the district’s 14,400 students, more than 8,200 students ride the bus to school in the morning and 8,800 ride a school bus home in the afternoon, in addition to field trips, sports activities, and so forth.

The district currently has a fleet of 200 buses, which were inspected in March by the state department of driver services. “We had a 10% out-of-service rate while the state average was 14%,” said District Superintendent Dr. Yancy Ford. “And I just want to say a big thank you to our mechanics for the amazing job that they do to keep all of our buses within the state (safety) specs.

The district is in the beginning stages of setting the budget for 2024-2025. Each department is figuring what it needs for next year, calculating figures from this year and estimating what they will need next year based on growth trends and trying to gauge inflation.

“We do expect the transportation budget from the state to go up,” Dr. Ford said. With a fleet of 200, the district theoretically has enough buses, but with a number of buses above state-recommended mileage and age, the district “is still behind based on what the state recommends,” Dr. Ford explained.

“If we order buses today, they’re still a year out,” Dr. Ford said.

King added that 28 buses (25 regular and three special ed) are being held in Effingham County’s name until she can tell the manufacturer how many buses the district can purchase. “And if we don’t get those, we’re a year-and-a-half out,” King said. Meaning, those buses would not be delivered until late 2025 or early 2026.

The district has a number of buses that according to state regulations should be replaced.

“The state recommends that buses on routes to be 10 years or younger. And I know that's unrealistic,” King told the board. “We have 22 buses that are over 20 years old. That's 11% of our fleet.”

King added those 20-year-old buses still run and are used as spares. “Those are not all (on)  routes but those are spares. If a bus breaks down or we pull buses for trips, we have to use those (older) buses,” King said.

In addition to the 22 buses older than 20 years, the district has 58 buses with more than 200,000 miles on them; and 49 buses that don’t have air conditioning. “When we pull buses for trips, or if one breaks down, we have to replace that with the non-A/C bus.” King added.

Three bus routes are currently using a bus without air conditioning, King said. “We were just right at the start of the year – every route had a bus with air conditioning,” King added. “But then we had to add three routes and we didn’t have air-conditioned buses (available).”

King explained to the board that buses being held in reserve for the district are still several months from delivery. “Nineteen buses could be ready by February 2025. Six buses could be ready by October 2025,” King said.

Buses that are replaced when new ones arrive will be surplused.

King added that camera systems are taken from old buses and installed on the new buses.

“We don't need that many spares, but we just need to update our fleet,” King concluded her presentation. “In football season when we use almost every one of our spares because we have other trips along with that, I wouldn't want any less than 200, but probably 210 would be a good number to have in our fleet.”

As for drivers, King added the district has a driver for each route but, “We are always looking for drivers, (both) subs and full time. We have people retiring for next year; we will need to add routes, and we have a couple of drivers moving, so there will be vacancies.” King said.