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NC public school buses staying on the road longer to cut costs

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

Buses used by public school systems in North Carolina were eligible for retirement once they reached 20-years-old or 200,000 miles, until state lawmakers made changes this year in the state budget.

Now, buses will stay on the road for at least 250,000 miles or 20 years. And if a bus is less than 15 years old, it will stay on the road until it reaches a minimum of 300,000 miles.

"From a safety perspective, we're going backwards," Durham County Schools Auxiliary Services Executive Director Scott Denton said.

"It will be problematic over time...And I'd love to be able to see us raise our safety standards for all buses to the same standard and not have that issue of replacing buses that are so old," Denton said. 

It's a cost-saving move for North Carolina, which did not replace any buses last year, due to budget constraints.  The state is also offering school districts incentives to keep those buses longer -- $2,000 a year per bus that stays on the road past the eligible replacement date.

"It's a pretty significant savings, at least in the short run," N.C. Department of Public Instruction Transportation Services Section Chief Derek Graham said.

Graham says 1,900 buses were scheduled for replacement this year, under the old rules, but with the recent changes, that number is down to between 500 and 600 buses.

Graham says the safety of those on the buses is not in jeopardy.

"Our newest buses have brighter LED lights, but the old buses still have all of the required amber and red lights to make sure that kids are protected when they're on those buses."

Graham also says some of the money saved will go to putting cameras on school bus stop arms.

WNCN obtained bus inspection data for the 2012-2013 school year.  Buses are inspected every 30 days.  The higher the number on an inspection, the more problems an inspector found.  Data shows Wake and Durham County school buses ranked near the state average for problems found during inspections.  Cumberland County faired better than average.  Now, with buses on the road longer, those inspections could start to reveal more problems.

"So the unknown, really," Graham said, "is what happens between 200,000 and 250,000 miles."

Derick Waller

Derick is a reporter for WNCN covering crime, education, politics and just about everything in between. He has a knack for adapting to any story and consistently delivers information quickly across multiple platforms. More>>

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