Schools get new buses for special-needs students

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By Reece Murphy

Lancaster County School District is the proud owner of new school buses this semester thanks, in large part, to the S.C. Education Lottery.

The six buses, worth nearly $500,000 in all, are among 342 new special-needs school buses the S.C. Department of Education delivered to school districts last month.

“Transporting students safely to and from school is a priority for the department and school districts,” S.C. Superintendent of Education Dr. Mick Zais said during a press conference. 

“These buses are more fuel-efficient, less expensive to maintain, and are equipped to transport students with disabilities.

“Today marks the first step in modernizing the nation’s oldest school bus fleet,” Zais said.

Bryan Vaughn, director of safety and transportation for Lancaster County School District, said the air-conditioned buses, a first for the district, have nearly double the capacity of the district’s former special-needs buses. The buses have room for up to 27 students, including space for multiple wheelchairs.

The buses, which can also be used for conventional bus routes, are already in service at Clinton Elementary, A.R. Rucker Middle, Lancaster High, South Middle, North Elementary, Erwin Elementary, Buford High and Indian Land Elementary schools.

Vaughn said the buses they replaced date from the 1980s and had extremely high mileage due to the larger-than-average size of their routes. He said their delivery was timely.

“It wasn’t something that we specifically asked for, but it was something we definitely needed,” Vaughn said. “We had so many older handicap buses, and as far as dealing with the lifts and such, it was truly putting a burden on parents.

“When you’re out on (S.C.) 903, or (U.S.) 521, or the Highway 9 bypass and a lift goes down, you’ve got traffic backing up for a mile in both directions, that’s a tough situation,” he said.

The S.C. Department of Education spent more than $28 million to buy the buses.

Eighty-eight percent of the amount was appropriated from unclaimed lottery prize money and excess lottery revenues this fiscal year and last.

The remaining funding came out of surplus general fund money and revenues from the sale of scrap metal from the state’s decommissioned school buses.

Zais has requested $34 million for new school bus purchases next fiscal year.

Vaughn said though unconfirmed as of yet, the school district should be receiving two more new buses with the new round.

Still, he said, the district is grateful for what it got and is hoping for the best.

“There’d been talk of it, but getting six in was extremely nice,” Vaughn said. “When they got delivered, we certainly weren’t expecting it.

“These buses will be well used and the students well served,” he said. “I applaud the General Assembly for appropriating the money. It helps, and frankly, we hope it continues.”


Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151