Morgan County hopes TN extends school bus life

(WBIR-Morgan County) Tennessee state laws restrict the mileage and years a school bus can run, but leaders in Morgan County said they hope lawmakers change the restrictions to save taxpayers and school systems a lot of money.

The current law limits school buses to 200,000 miles or 17 years, whichever comes first. The law had been 15 years but lawmakers approved a two-year extension in 2009.

"Our goal is to have safe bases. But the way that we mechanic and keep up with them, there's no reason why the miles and years couldn't be extended," said Keith Duncan, Transportation Director with Morgan County Schools.

Due to the cap, Duncan said three buses will have to come off the fleet at the end of the year. Morgan County has had to retire 25 buses in the last six years.

"They're $100,000 a piece," said Duncan. "That's $2.5 million to replace them."

Duncan said mechanics inspect every bus once a month. State inspectors also perform annual inspections. They left Morgan County Wednesday after spending a week and a half going through their checklist on the system's 45 buses.

"We only had three that had a problem, and that's normal," said Duncan. "Once the other three come off the fleet, we'll be down to four spares. They want you to have one spare for every 10 buses. So we'll be cutting it close."

Don Edwards, the Morgan County Executive, said he hopes lawmakers pass a bill that would loosen the restrictions like nearby states.

"What we're spending on buses, we could spend in the classroom," said Edwards.

Edwards said the buses would still need to pass rigorous inspections, since safety is the top priority.

"I don't want my child, my grandchild, on an unsafe bus, and I don't want anyone's, and we want those buses safe," said Edwards. "But we want to run them as long as we can. We need to be stewards and these buses run on taxpayer dollars."

Morgan County Schools is not the first district to push the issue in Tennessee.

According to the Tennessee School Boards Association, lawmakers filed two bills last year to extend the limits, but they were not heard. Lee Harrell, the Director of Government Relations, Labor Relations, and Policy, said Coffee and Cumberland schools have also brought up the issue to the TSBA.

Harrell according to TSBA research, which included 27 states, 21 of them had no hard caps on mileage or years. In Georgia, Kentucky, and North Carolina, buses can run as long as they pass inspections.

"It's not just us [Morgan County]," said Edwards. "The Tennessee School Boards Association is also on this side with us."

Lawmakers will be back in session January 14th.


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