The Columbia County school board authorized the purchase of 20 new school buses Tuesday.
The $1.8 million purchase includes 15 66-passenger buses and five 48-passenger buses. Most of the money for the purchase will come from the 1-percent sales tax, with $300,000 coming from the state.
The school system replaces buses after about 10 years. Superintendent Charles Nagle told board members that the system likely will need to purchase 16 more buses this summer.
After those summer purchases, all of the system's buses will be air-conditioned, Nagle said.
School trustee Mike Sleeper expressed reservations that Atlanta-based Nalley Motor Trucks was the sole bidder to supply the buses and questioned if a request for bids was so specific that only Nalley would qualify.
Transportation Director Dewayne Porter said the requests had to be specific to get engines his mechanics are qualified to maintain and repair.
Also at Tuesday's meeting, school officials disclosed the number of pupils who intend to take advantage of permissive transfers.
State law allows parents to request that their children be transferred to any school within the same system with available capacity.
Schools in Columbia County that had available capacity for next school year include Blue Ridge Elementary, with 24 open spaces; Euchee Creek Elementary, with 86; North Columbia Elementary, with 19; Greenbrier Middle, with four; and Harlem High, with 261.
Three pupils chose to transfer to North Columbia and one to Blue Ridge. Harlem High and Euchee Creek will receive the most transferring pupils with 12 and eight, respectively.
Nine pupils asked for a transfer to Greenbrier Middle, so the school held a lottery to narrow the number to four.
Assistant Superintendent Robert Jarrell said there will be no waiting lists, so if a pupil selected for Greenbrier Middle later chooses to remain at their zoned school, another pupil can't step into the open slot.
Permissive transfer requests were collected last month.
Last year, due to the late passage of the law, schools that initially reported available capacity later reduced their number of open spaces and some pupils had to be turned away.
By collecting the transfer requests in January, school officials hope to avoid a similar scenario for next school year and said the system can better plan for the necessary teachers needed to attend to the pupil populations at each school.
Parents or pupils taking advantage of permissive transfers must provide their own transportation to the preferred school.
Caveats in the law allow local school officials to block transfers to schools already at capacity and schools less than four years old, such as Grovetown High School.
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