A bill introduced last month by Sen. Janice Bowling would permit the continued use of a school bus, regardless of years of service or miles driven, if the bus is found to be safe upon inspection.
Under Tennessee’s current law, buses must be retired from service after 17 years or 200,000 miles, whichever comes first.
At a legislative dinner Thursday, Bowling had the opportunity to discuss SB 1605 and explain why she wants to eliminate mileage and age restrictions for school buses. Under her legislation, local boards of education would be required to inspect their buses once a year for the first 15 years and twice per year after that.
“I believe safety is not a function of age or mileage but of maintenance,” Bowling said. “If anyone fudges those inspections, that bus is out of service. I think it’s just common sense.”
The Department of Education estimates there are 543 buses statewide that would be replaced under existing law, according to the fiscal notes for SB 1605 and companion bill HB 1473. The DOE estimates the average cost for a new school bus is $85,000. So, if local governments elect not to purchase 273 buses as a result of this bill — approximately 50 percent of all buses that are slated for replacement — the permissive decrease in local expenditures for fiscal year 2014-2015 is estimated to be $23,205,000.
The estimated decrease in state revenue exceeds $259,700 for FY 2014-2015 and subsequent fiscal years. There would be no decrease in Department of Safety personnel as a result of fewer inspections being conducted.
An amendment by the Senate Education Committee would allow the Department of Safety to collect a fee for additional inspections of buses still in service after 15 years, to be paid by the owner of the bus. Another amendment states that if the commissioner of safety finds that an LEA or bus owner hasn't provided proper maintenance or kept accurate maintenance records on a bus with more than 200,000 miles or 17 years of service, the commissioner may remove this bus from service.
Rep. Judd Matheny (R-47), who also attended the town hall, lent his support to both bills. He said the Coffee County School District has six yellow buses that are close to reaching the existing limits, “and those buses could easily get back on the road and save the district $700,000.”
The Tullahoma Board of Education recently approved a resolution urging the General Assembly to either eliminate or raise the caps on the lifespan of school buses to enable local districts to make the call on bus replacement.
While the Tullahoma district does not maintain a fleet of buses to transport students to and from school daily, it does have buses that are used for field trips and sports.
“We drive very few miles and we drive on good, paved roads,” said Dan Lawson, director of schools. “There’s no reason for us to retire buses after 15 years.”