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SCHOOL PATROL

School board members discuss renewing contract with Durham School Services

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HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -

UPDATE: Hamilton County School Board members are considering whether they'll renew the contract with Durham School Services for transportation.
School Board member and Finance Chair, Tiffanie Robinson says she'll be calling a meeting next week.

She posted on Facebook she wants to look into what it would take to move the system to an independent contractor model.

Durham's contract with the school system is up in June and some board members have expressed concerns renewing it.

But they were told at Wednesday's work session, they might not have a choice.

Stay with Channel 3 as we continue to follow this developing story.

PREVIOUS STORY: The Hamilton County School Board is learning what safety improvements Durham School Services has made to school buses since the deadly Woodmore bus crash, and their debating on whether Durham's contract will be renewed, or if they will cut ties with the company all together.

Durham's contract is up in June and some board members have concerns with renewing it, but as they were told on Wednesday night's work session, they might not have a choice.

Board members listened as Asst. Superintendent Lee McDade listed off more than a dozen changes Durham said its made since the deadly school bus crash.

"They completed on board video reviews of all drivers," McDade said, "and now have cameras focused on the drivers as well as the other three cameras that were already on board on buses."

Durham is paying for 30 extra bus monitors to ride along the most difficult routes and re-checked drivers licenses and backgrounds checks for all of its part-time drivers.

"They've agreed to pay for any and all hospital bills, they're paying for all counseling and support, they donated $50,000 to the Woodmore United Way fund," McDade said.

But even with all of these improvements, many school board members are hesitant to give the school bus company another chance.

"I've got a problem with extending Durham," said Joe Smith, District 3.

The board discussed other options, such as looking into independent contractors who would drive their own buses.

Some members think those drivers would be more reliable.

"If I did not know the Durham driver and I did not know the contract driver I would tend to want my young grandchildren drive with the contract driver," said Dr. Steve Highlander, District 9.

McDade told the school board there's not enough time to write up a new RFP (request for proposal) to hire a new company.

That process takes up to a year.

It leaves the school board with little choice but to consider extending Durham's contract for at least another year.

"From my perspective, this ain't going to happen again," said Joe Wingate, District 7, "It's not going to happen that I'm sitting up here on a board, representing a district, and in front of my whole community I look like a boob because I got people telling me I can't put an RFP out because the window's too tight."

The school board also talked with the Superintendent search firm on what they would like to see in a new school leader.

Members acknowledged a list of challenges the new superintendent will be facing, such as lawsuits, under-performing schools, and municipalities threatening to break away from the school district.

Board member Tiffanie Robinson told the search firm she would like to see a leader with experience.

"I just think in order for this person to be successful it's going to have to be someone who has actually been in this type of role before, and it's not basically their first rodeo," Robinson said.

There was no vote at this meeting on any of these topics.

The school board will meet again for another work session January 12th.

School Patrol

David Carroll covers education news and issues at schools across the Tennessee Valley.

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