Nevada officials said Tuesday they're trying to calculate the cost of replacing potentially hazardous buses used to take students to and from schools and to haul prison fire crews to and from forest fires.
The issue came up during a state Board of Examiners meeting, when a state agency presented its request for nearly $2.7 million to replace 12-passenger buses used by the inmate firefighters, and the discussion quickly broadened to cover school buses as well.
"We're really in a hard spot here," said Gov. Kenny Guinn, who chairs the board. He and other board members approved the funding request, but made it contingent upon a review of the state's 17 school districts to see how many flawed buses exist and what their replacement cost would be.
About half of the 130 inmate firefighter buses appear to have welding defects. The problem became known as a result of a wreck last year in Florida, when a Carpenter Bus Co. bus rolled and its roof collapsed down to the seats. The driver was injured. No students were on board.
A federal safety advisory recommends that any Carpenter buses identified as having bad welds be taken out of service and replaced, or be repaired if possible.
But the Board of Examiners was told the inmate buses are up to 20 years old and not worth repairing. The plan is to replace them with vans and crew cab trucks.
"They've been pieced together with bailing wire," state Forester Steve Robinson said following the board meeting. "We're in a situation where we really don't have any choice but to replace them."
Nevada Highway Patrol Chief David Hosmer told the board that several dozen flawed Carpenter buses have been identified in various school district fleets.
In Clark County, the state's most populous area, 23 buses already have been replaced, at a cost of $2 million. In Washoe County, 15 defective buses were taken off the road and most are being replaced through a lease-purchase program.
While some school districts can cover their own costs for bus replacements, Guinn and other board members - Attorney General Brian Sandoval and Secretary of State Dean Heller - agreed fiscal caution is warranted because other districts might need help from the state.
The money sought for the inmate bus replacements would come from a state fund reserved for fiscal emergencies. It now holds about $11 million. The allocation would have to be approved by the Legislature's Interim Finance Committee, which meets April 8.
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