State lawmakers are considering a bill that would reduce funds for school buses over the next five years.
The House bill would limit the number of spare buses and their replacement parts, while revising the state inspection process for school bus maintenance.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Julia Howard (R-Davie, Forsyth), says the legislation would make school bus operations more efficient, while saving about $19 million in recurring funds over the years.
Erik Eaker, director of transportation for Lincoln County Schools, expressed some concern about the bill in a House Education Committee meeting on Tuesday. He says school districts have already seen several cuts to transportation budgets in the last few years, and that school districts, or LEAs, are absorbing escalating operational and mechanical costs.
“LEAs have made adjustments over the past few years to improve efficiency to be able to manage these escalating costs,” he says. “For most LEAs, that well has basically dried up, so any further adjustments to the funding formula will result in a budget reduction.”
Rep. Chris Whitmire, (R-Henderson, Polk, Transylvania) also expressed some concern, saying that the limited resources could impact certain counties – especially mountainous ones with long, winding roads that tend to wear out school buses.
“I just want to make sure that places that are not necessarily near and dear to the flatlands, we don’t have an unintended consequence of cutting their inventories to the point where we just have a bad situation,” he says.
Some House Education Committee members assured him and others that safety is still a number one priority when making considerations to transportation budgets, and that resources will still be available.
“We’re well aware of some of the differences that take place across the state. This bill would require that we develop a policy that would need to include such things for part inventory,” says Derek Graham, Section Chief, Transportation Services at the Department of Public Instruction.
Rep. Howard, the sponsor of the bill, also says that the cuts would not affect bus routes or the number of students served.
Along with changes to the school bus budget, the bill includes language to eliminate certain Textbook Services positions as public schools shift toward more digital resources. It would also reallocate unneeded textbook warehouse space to other state agencies.
The House Education Committee is expected to vote on the legislation in the upcoming weeks.