School buses

A line of school buses exits Itawamba Attendance Center, carrying students home from school.

The Itawamba County School District is among 12 Mississippi school districts that will receive a portion of nearly $300,000 in grant money from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).

The local school district will receive $30,000 from the state agency to help purchase two new diesel-powered school buses featuring tighter pollution controls. The funds were provided through the MDEQ’s Air Division though the Diesel School Bus Replacement Program, which itself falls under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA).

Itawamba County School District Superintendent of Education Trae Wiygul said the local school district will put the funds to good use.

“We are always looking for ways to improve our transportation system,” Wiygul said. “We have several buses that are in the latter stages of life and we need to start getting some of them off the roads. We were able to get three new buses with the grant money and that which was set aside for upgrades in our budget.”

Wiygul said the grant stipulates three buses be removed from regular rotation.

The intent of the grant program is to help reduce emissions.

According to information provided by agency itself, MDEQ also encourages school districts to adopt anti-idling policies. In fact, the implementation of such a policy is a requirement for the districts that received funds for buses this year. Stricter emissions standards for diesel engines, including school buses, were implemented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2007.

Since the Diesel School Bus Replacement Program’s implementation in 2009, the MDEQ has awarded more than $1.38-million to 40 school districts. That money has been used to purchase 87 buses.

This year, the MDEQ is awarding a total of $296,992 in grants for 12 districts to purchase a total of 20 buses.

Other districts announced to receive grant dollars include Enterprise, Harrison County, Lee County, Marshall County, Monroe County, Nettleton, North Pike, Oxford, Pontotoc, West Jasper and Winona-Montgomery Consolidated.

“I am very pleased that the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality has awarded this money to the 12 school districts to aid in the purchase of new school buses with cleaner emissions to transport students to and from school,” said Gov. Phil Bryant via press release.

“Thousands of Mississippi students begin and end their days with a trip on a school bus so helping school districts provide newer, cleaner buses is an ongoing priority for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. School buses are the safest and most efficient way to transport students, but we want to ensure that it is a healthy trip,” said Gary Rikard, MDEQ Executive Director.

Itawamba County School District currently runs 58 buses each school day and maintains an additional 14 spare buses.

Wiygul said the local school district takes advantage of grant programs like MDEQ’s whenever possible.

“We are definitely not a wealthy school district, so we have scratch and claw for every dollar,” he said. “These grants provide us with an opportunity to make improvements to our school district.”

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