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Electric buses coming to South Dakota school districts

In a new nationwide survey, half of all student transportation coordinators described school bus driver shortages as either "severe" or "desperate."
© Allard Schager
/
Getty Images
In a new nationwide survey, half of all student transportation coordinators described school bus driver shortages as either "severe" or "desperate."

Six school districts in the state will soon get new electric buses. Making it possible is a federal grant aiming to replace older, diesel-powered models aiming to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

The electric busses are paid for with a $3.6 million grant from the Biden administration. School districts in Alexandria, DeSmet, Garretson, Lower Brule, Viborg and Volga get at least one electric bus under the plan.

The Sioux Valley School District serves Volga and other communities. Superintendent Laura Schuster says the new busses will represent half of the district’s fleet.

“Currently we have four bus routes that run each day," Schuster said. "When we applied for the grant, we decided to apply for two buses which would be half of our routes. We’re looking at those buses being in operation for the 23-24 school year."

Sioux Valley will receive two buses with estimated savings of just under $800,000. Schuster says those dollars will add up.

“We are a smaller district, and so our capital outlay budget is one that’s always very tight," Schuster said. "So, there is a lot of things that we can do with those funds with buildings and facilities that we would have to use towards replacement of the busses at some point in time. It’s very significant for our school district because that’s a lot of money."

Superintendent Brett Mellem in the Viborg-Hurley district, wants to see how the electric buses handle real conditions – like a South Dakota winter.

“Our routes range from 35 to a 50 mile round-trip, usually it’s around 40, 42," Mellem said. "Our goal is to get the morning and night route done on one charge, but we’ll just have to adjust because obviously when you have the heaters running and you’ve got kids on there you don’t want to run out of charge because their safety is the priority.”

These buses can run about 120 miles between charges. The grant also covers charging equipment and associated infrastructure.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering education, healthcare, arts and culture.