Hamilton County schools' contract with Durham School Services is still up in the air. But Tuesday night, independent contractors filled the room at a work session.

School board members and bus drivers are looking for common ground on pay and benefits, but common ground was elusive even with a new proposal administrators called a hybrid plan.

The hybrid plan is something new, presented to the drivers for the first time at this work session.

The plan includes health and life benefits for 35 owner-operators who would be employees of the county, which would prevent them from owning more than one bus.

Those who want to own more buses would lose their benefits. 

"If you own more than one route you're now a bus company," school board member Joe Wingate says. "I understand that's a sticking point, but that's a wall we're not going to be able to get through."

Fourteen other owner operators and 20 new ones would receive a stipend to help with benefits. But drivers had another plan in mind.  

"Offered the proposal we offered which is a full daily rate, and they proposed a hybrid plan which we haven't discussed with the drivers yet," says owner-operator Jerry Green.  

Board members agreed to take the time needed to get this right.

"Transportation has to be the safest getting them to school," says school board member David Testerman.  

"We're just in the process of negotiating a contract right now and hoping we can add more owner-operators and become multi-owners as well," says Green.

"Working through this process is difficult, especially with the budget constraints that we have," says Testerman.

After the independent school bus driver discussion, board member Tiffany Robinson opened discussion on another sure-to-be hot topic: zoning. 

But that will apparently be a fight for another day.