Originally created 01/18/06

S. Carolina bill encourages schools to privatize buses



COLUMBIA - A bill intended to encourage school districts to contract privately for busing services is headed for a final House vote today.

"The impetus behind this bill is to provide better transportation service to the students who are being transported to (schools) throughout the state of South Carolina ... to get those students to school on time, not having to leave home before daylight, " said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Roland Smith, R-Langley.

Originally, the bill would have allowed school districts to sell state-owned buses, but that provision was dropped.

As amended, the bill clarifies the process by which school districts that choose to contract on their own for busing services - instead of using the state-run system - get their state funding, Mr. Smith said.

School districts already are allowed to contract with a private company for their busing services.

Two school districts - Beaufort County and Charleston - do.

Those districts, however, still use some state-owned buses, and the state continues to pay maintenance costs for those vehicles, said Jim Foster, spokesman for the state Department of Education.

Under Mr. Smith's bill, a school district that privatizes its busing services would be given a proportional share of state funding for school transportation activities, including fuel, maintenance costs and parts, drivers' salaries, insurance "and any other relevant activities."

Beaufort's Superintendent Edna Crews said her district is pleased with privatization, be it with the bus company or food service.

The companies perform their duties, Ms. Crews said, "(And) we can stay on our core business, which is educating students."

Mr. Smith said he is trying to encourage more school districts to take over busing responsibilities from the state.