A handful of new school buses has arrived in Beaufort County as part of the state's first purchase of the vehicles in four years.
The Beaufort County School District is getting five of the 342 new buses. They will replace older ones used for special-education students, district spokesman Jim Foster said.
The state bus buying, announced at a press conference Thursday in Columbia, marks the first purchase of newly manufactured buses since 2008. The buses will go to districts across the state, replacing buses manufactured in the 1980s.
In Beaufort, three of the new buses replaced those purchased in 1988. Two others purchased in 1995 were also replaced.
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The district uses 14 buses for special-education students. Two buses purchased in 1988 and four purchased in 1995 remain. Three others are owned by Durham School Services, the company the district contracts with for bus operations. Foster said he wasn't sure how old those were.
It was not clear Thursday whether any buses in Jasper County were replaced. School district offices were closed.
The Beaufort County School District uses 127 buses every school day to transport about 11,000 children -- a little more than half the total number of students in the district. Most of those buses are state-owned and serviced. Some are owned by Durham School Services.
According to the S.C. Department of Education, the 342 buses were purchased with $28 million, mostly from lottery revenue or unclaimed lottery prizes.
In 2007, an investigative series in The (Charleston) Post & Courier revealed the state's buses are the oldest, most polluting and least safe in the nation. As a result, the state established guidelines that call for buses to be replaced after 15 years, which was to have created a cycle of replacing about 375 buses annually at a cost of $36 million per year.
So far the state has failed to follow its replacement program. Instead the legislature is studying the South Carolina School Bus Privatization Act of 2012, which would require districts to take over their bus operations or contract out the operation to private companies. The proposal is being reviewed by the Senate Committee on Education and has Gov. Nikki Haley's support.
Beaufort County is one of three districts that contracts out bus services. The others are Charleston and Dorchester District 2. Maintenance facilities are state-run. The Berkeley County School District operates its own buses.
The (Charleston) Post & Courier contributed to this report.