Anything is fair game to thieves, including school bus batteries.
With the new school year comes a wave of boosted batteries. In Henry County, some 38 batteries worth $5,000 have been stolen from nearly two dozen buses since Aug. 4, the day before school started in Henry.
“Aside from it being reprehensible to essentially be stealing from kids who rely upon our transportation to make it to and from school, it costs our district a lot of money and precious time to replace the batteries when we already are operating on tight budgets and timelines,” said Cliff Shearouse, transportation director for Henry County schools. “Our bus drivers are up early in the morning to start their routes but get delayed when they find their bus will not start because of a stolen battery.”
In addition to costing the district more money, the thefts have had a ripple effect on the school system. About 60 percent of Henry public schools’ 40,000 students ride buses. Battery thefts have meant kids aren’t picked up or delivered to school on time; as a result, parents had to drop kids off at school or were delayed while waiting on a replacement bus or battery. It also meant a late start for some schools. It is the first time this has happened to the school district.
School officials in nearby Clayton and Fayette counties on the southern end of metro Atlanta report no similar problems.
However, Cobb County schools spokesman Doug Goodwin said the district had 20 batteries stolen a week before the district’s Aug. 7 school opening. While the thefts did not affect opening day or the overall system’s operations, Cobb officials are looking at instituting some type of surveillance security system to deter future thefts.
The Henry and Cobb school districts are the latest in a string of systems across the South dealing with stolen bus batteries this summer:
- Thieves stole 24 school bus batteries in Bamberg County, S.C., late last week.
- School districts in and around Cleveland, Texas, have had a rash of similar thefts of dozens of batteries since May.
- Raleigh, N.C., police last month arrested a man tied to the theft of 61 batteries worth $7,000 taken from school buses parked near a high school. The arrest came after a scrap dealer alerted the police when the man tried to sell 17 batteries similar to the stolen ones.
The batteries weigh anywhere from 40 to 125 pounds and cost between $100 and $300. They appeal to criminals because they fetch a high price at scrap yards and recycling centers.
The stolen batteries is an unexpected headache for Henry, a school district, like many others, that is trying to operate within a tight budget. Henry has 309 school buses and a transportation budget of about $2.3 million.
“You prepare for incidentals that might happen, but you don’t expect this to be one of those things that might happen,” said Henry schools spokesman J.D. Hardin. “It’s a major inconvenience.”
Boosting school bus batteries isn’t new. Three years ago, thieves stole $40,000 worth of batteries from the DeKalb County school district. Some were recovered, and a man went to jail after a scrap yard dealer alerted police.
If you have information, contact Sgt. Sandra Holliday with the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, 678 898-7339.