Although public education and the transportation to get it have always been free, some local parents are willing to shell out money to make things more comfortable for their children. Some concerns have arisen among parents over the extreme summer temperatures and the lack of air conditioning on school buses.
"It's gone to the extent that some parents are calling asking if they can take up a collection to pay to have air conditioning installed," Jim Franklin, the assistant superintendent in administrative services, told the school board during their monthly planning meeting last week.
Dr. Franklin said parents do not realize that it costs $8,000 to $10,000 per regular bus to have air conditioning installed. Special education buses are about half that price. During the summer, the school system spent over $38,500 to have the seven special education buses installed with air conditioners before the school year began.
According to Superintendent Mark Petersen, McDuffie County has 41 school buses, including the special ed buses, and 19 have air conditioners.
"That's almost 50 percent, that's pretty good," he said.
But Dr. Petersen understands that pretty good isn't good enough. He said officials are constantly looking for ways to help make conditions more comfortable. The tops of the buses have been painted white to reflect the sun and coolers of bottled water are stocked on every bus each afternoon. Dr. Petersen said the principals of each school have created more lines of students to load buses in the afternoon, thus reducing the amount of time students are on the buses. Also, more pick ups and drop offs for in-town school buses have been added to cut down on the amount of time students spend on buses.
"Some parents are also helping with this effort by picking up their students during this heat wave," the superintendent said. "And we appreciate their help and understanding."
But Dr. Petersen said he is also concerned about the bus drivers "who must drive under these conditions and are on the buses much longer than our students."
Driver Daisy Ansley said she is on her bus for two hours every afternoon.
"When you get that hot and you get off soaking wet, you feel like a limp noodle," she said. "It drains you. It's all I can do to get a shower, get supper done, dishes washed, go to bed and then get up and start it all over again."
To have air conditioners installed on the 21 remaining buses, Dr. Petersen said it would cost at least $168,000. But time would be a problem even if funds were available. Dr. Petersen said he can't send off the buses during the school year to have the air conditioning installed. Officials are discussing how many buses will be done next summer.
"We are going to continue to look at ways we can speed up the process of air conditioning the buses," Dr. Petersen said. "So we understand the plight and we are doing the best we can."
All new buses purchased by the school board come equipped with air conditioning. Dr. Petersen said there are funds in the budget for four new buses next year. According to Morris News Service reports, both Richmond and Columbia Counties are in the same predicament. Their older buses are not air conditioned, but new ones being purchased are.
"We've always had problems with heat on the buses," Dr. Petersen said. "In the South, it's hot."