COLUMBIA --- For some, the school-bus fire that nine Beaufort County students escaped from last week is a perfect illustration of why legislators should put money for new vehicles back in the budget.
"To not fund buses and to potentially having a breakdown problem ... is completely irresponsible," said Beaufort County school board member George Wilson. "That has to be funded."
But with a weak economy dampening tax collections, budget writers are considering paring $20 million from the $30 million transportation portion of the state's budget. The cut would mean the state would get only about 125 new buses instead about 375.
Exactly how many of those would be for Beaufort County School District depends on a variety of factors, such as the fleet's age and the number of routes it travels.
Mr. Wilson was among school board members who visited the Statehouse on Wednesday. He and board Chairman Fred Washington said restoring the $20 million was critical.
Fires such as the one on the Buckwalter Parkway on Monday could become common if more buses are run past their designed life span, local officials fear.
Funds for new school buses are among widespread cuts that state lawmakers are considering. Here are some details about the 5,000 buses that carry the state's schoolchildren:
Q: What caused the school bus in Beaufort County School District to catch fire Monday?
A: A preliminary examination found that the engine malfunctioned. That caused a component to come loose and break through the outside of the engine. Oil leaked out, touched another part of the bus and caught fire.
Q: How many miles do all the state's school buses drive in a year?
A: 79 million
Q: Why do buses need to be replaced?
A: To prevent breakdowns and reduce safety hazards. Newer buses also cost less to operate. Instead of getting six miles per gallon, they could be getting eight. If the state buys 12.6 million gallons of fuel each year, fuel costs could decline by 30 percent for new buses.
Source: South Carolina Department of Education