The Walker County Board of Education is once again investing in the safety of students by purchasing 12 new school buses.
The school buses arrived in Jasper this past week and are expected to be on the roads early Monday morning.
Mike Scott, the director of transportation for Walker County Schools, said the 12 new buses cost just over $1 million — roughly $85,000 each — and two of the buses are equipped for those with special needs.
The buses do not have seatbelts but are installed with air conditioners. Each bus also has a five-camera video surveillance system installed, and a GPS will also be installed on each bus to monitor speed and school bus stops.
School buses were purchased with funding the school board received through the Education Trust Fund's Advancement and Technology Fund, and purchasing school buses allows the school system to participate in The Alabama Fleet Renewal Program.
"The good thing about the fleet renewal program is the state will reimburse us about 80 percent of what we've got into these buses," Scott said.
Walker County Schools Superintendent Dr. Joel Hagood said participation in the fleet renewal program also helps pay off school bus debt and contributes to the buying of school buses in the future.
Hagood previously told the Daily Mountain Eagle that purchasing new school buses was a necessity, due to some 2000 and 2004 models still being used on county roads. School buses are typically designed to be replaced every 10 to 15 years.
In early 2020, the school system purchased 13 new school buses with Advancement and Technology funds. With the most recent purchase of school buses, a total of 25 new buses have been added to the school system's fleet.
"We were down about 40 school buses. Our fleet had been neglected," Hagood said. "When you've got an expansive geographical area like we do, as many schools as we do, some things have been let go for a while. We're just trying to get it back in shape."
He added, "This is huge. For the taxpayers, we're focusing on the things we said we're going to do, the necessities. We've been replacing roofs, buying buses, replacing HVAC units, and trying to get everything back to where it needs to be."
Hagood said he hopes the school system can purchase another round of buses in the coming months, which should complete the replacement of the school system's fleet of much older models.
The superintendent believes the school system is currently in a good place financially and is pleased to see necessary purchases and maintenance occurring.
"With the cuts we had to make, with the refinance deal that we've made, with this Advancement and Technology Fund money that's coming in and the capital bond issue that's coming up, that's going to allow us to take care of a lot of our needs and capital needs," Hagood said. "We can be accumulating money from the moves we've made and the savings we're going to accumulate. Then maybe we can do a few things down the road. I'm really excited about where we are in the future."
Bus drivers needed
The Walker County Board of Education is seeking permanent and substitute bus drivers, amid a driver shortage.
Director of Transportation for Walker County Schools Mike Scott said COVID-19 has greatly impacted the school system's number of available school bus drivers.
"We are probably at our most critical stage since I've been here, a little over nine years, because of COVID," Scott said. "We've had several sub drivers that have driven for us for several years, and because of their age, they don't want to drive during this time. We've also had four or five drivers that have retired in the last two months, unexpectedly, because of COVID."
Scott said a new bus driving class will begin in three weeks.
Anyone interested in driving a bus for Walker County Schools may come by the transportation office (located near the Walker County Center of Technology, along Viking Drive) or call (205) 387-2155.
A list of requirements for being a school bus driver can be found by visiting https://www.walkercountyschools.com/domain/74.