Some students in the Palmetto State soon will be riding in style on brand-new school buses.
State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais is expected to announce today the delivery of the first additions to the state-owned fleet since 2007-08.
The new buses will be funded by almost $12.5 million in unclaimed lottery-prize money.
Zais and other state officials were unavailable for comment Wednesday, which was a state holiday. It was unclear how many new buses are expected.
South Carolina operates the only state-run bus fleet in the country, and it also is the oldest fleet in the nation, with the majority of the buses more than 15 years old, according to the state Department of Education. Many of the buses date to the 1990s and some even to the 1980s. Some had logged more than 400,000 miles.
The fleet of 5,657 buses traveled more than 81 million miles to transport more than 655,000 students daily during the last school year.
In 2007, an investigative series in The Post and Courier revealed that 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.
In the decade before that, the state bought an average of about 90 new buses per year. At that rate, it would take about 62 years to replace them all.
But so far the state has failed to follow its replacement program, and instead the Legislature is now 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 in the Senate Committee on Education and has the support of Gov. Nikki Haley.
Locally, some districts, such as Charleston, Beaufort and Dorchester District 2, already contract out bus service with Durham School Services, but maintenance facilities are still state-run.
The Berkeley County School District operates its own buses.
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or www.facebook.com/brindge.