SNOW HILL — Even with the Worcester County Board of Education in a perpetual budget crunch, members decided to impose strict standards upon themselves when it comes to replacing school buses.
Prior to last week’s Board of Education meeting, the official policy was that all replacement buses purchased by the county would have to be “generally new.” However, Board members chose to make the language more concrete, defining a “generally new” bus as one with “no more than five years of previous service.”
“I commend the Board for qualifying what ‘generally new’ means,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes. “When it comes to the safety of our students, there is no room for ambiguity.”
While a state exemption allows the Lower Eastern Shore, including Worcester, to run school buses an additional three years beyond the Maryland average, lengthening their effective lives from 12 years to 15, the Board has made it clear that it didn’t take that exemption as any kind of free pass.
“When the extension was passed by the General Assembly about 10 years ago, our Board of Education opposed the Lower Shore exception,” Andes said. “Why should the definition of a ‘safe bus’ be different from one end of the state to the other? In Worcester County, we have a tradition of having higher standards, not lower.”
Andes stated that the county would only take advantage of that exemption if the school board could be sure the bus was in perfect shape at the 12-year mark, which would mean several years’ worth of inspection records and accounts.
“Our school buses undergo three safety inspections and a preventative inspection annually,” said Steve Price, supervisor of transportation. “When a bus transporting students for our school system reaches the 12-year mark, we have extensive inspection records on the bus, which enables the Superintendent of Schools to make an informed decision on whether or not the bus should qualify for three more years of service.”
The new language will make it so that any replacement bus purchased will serve the majority of its standard 12-year career within Worcester County. Therefore, Andes and the Board will have all of the records and information they need to decide on whether or not a certain vehicle will be allowed to continue on past the 12-year mark.