State lawmakers allocated $15 million to upgrade aging school bus fleets in public school districts across Georgia when it passed its 2019 fiscal year budget last month, but the money is not nearly enough to serve the needs of the Hall County and Gainesville school systems.
“While I am always thankful for any funding, the state allotment will mean approximately two buses for Hall County,” Superintendent Will Schofield said.
Hall County Schools currently operates 400 buses.
School officials have had to look at other districts for quality used buses “to keep our fleet nimble,” Schofield said.
“I am thankful for other districts that appear to have more money than we do, allowing us to get additional years out of used buses for $2,000 to $3,000 each,” he added.
A recent report from the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute outlined safety concerns related to aging school bus fleets.
“Shrinking state funding for student transportation and rising costs are making it more difficult for school districts across Georgia to get children to and from school safely,” the report states. “The worsening financial pinch leaves districts with aging bus fleets on the road past their intended life, concerns about student safety and far fewer dollars to invest in the classroom.”
The report states that lawmakers have not fully funded transportation for schools based on the state’s own formula.
For example, “The state’s funding formula called for sending $302 million to districts in 2017, but instead the legislature approved just $130 million.”
“A second cause is rising transportation costs, which are not accounted for in the formula,” the report concludes.
For the Gainesville City School System, aging buses and required maintenance remain an ongoing challenge.
“I do have an aging fleet,” said Jerry Castleberry, the Gainesville system’s director of transportation.
The average age of buses for Gainesville schools is 13 years, Castleberry added, and some buses running were manufactured in the late 1980s.
Gainesville operates 64 buses in all.
Gainesville was allocated four new buses each in 2013 and 2014, but none since.
Last year, the state allocated just $7.5 million for buses, which meant 97 new school buses for the entire state.
Castleberry said he deals with the funding, or lack thereof, as best as possible and ensures that each bus is safe to transport students.
But there is a need for larger buses to handle continual growth in student enrollment, particularly because Gainesville serves many students living in large multifamily apartment complexes.
“Those big buses are going to help us out a lot,” Castleberry said. “I just wish they would put more money toward buses.”