Durham School Services is asking for new narrowband radios to be installed on all buses it leases from the county.
The two-way radios presently installed on the buses are broadband. The FCC has mandated all licensees using 25 kHz radio systems migrate to narrowband 12.5 kHz channels by Jan. 1, 2013, according to County Executive John Pelham. Licensees that do not meet the deadline face the loss of license.
Many sources of media are using the airwaves today, Pelham says. Narrowband leaves room for more use of airwaves.
Bids had previously been opened from Communications Evolutions, the lone bidder on the project, for $37,311 for 66 radios and the equipment needed to properly run those radios.
The county owns 66 buses, which cost approximately $80,000 to $90,000 each. Durham leases those buses for $1. Although Durham School Services leases the buses from the county, Durham does not have to supply the radios.
The current contract between the county and Durham states any fixture that goes on a bus becomes property of the bus. That means if Durham puts radios in the buses and its contract is not renewed, the radios will belong to the county. The current contract is for three years with an option to renew in 2015. It is a three-year contract with two, one-year options. Durham is in its second year of the contract.
“I think it is our responsibility to keep buses up to date because we own the buses,” said Director of Schools Bobby Cox.
“We’ve got to draw the line somewhere. Where does our responsibility end and theirs take over?” asked Commissioner Wayne Copeland.
“I can’t vote for this,” added Commissioner Terry Bell. “We let them lease millions of dollars worth of buses for $1 and now you want more money for buses. If the contract is up in two years and we need to sell that radio equipment it will be for next to nothing. If you buy a $300 cellphone today, in two years what is it worth? The radios will be the same.”
“We used to buy buses every year,” continued Bell. “There’s not been the first bus bought in two years. That’s a private company making a profit and leasing our buses for $1. We’re gonna have worn-out buses that run off a cliff and they will take their profit in two years and leave.”
Cox explained to the committee that bus drivers cannot communicate bus to bus and schools cannot communicate to buses with the current radio equipment. All calls must go through the dispatcher. By updating technology, schools can directly contact buses.
“Is this a safety issue?” asked Pelham.
“To me it is,” replied Cox, “It only takes one kid to have a seizure and we can’t communicate with anybody.”
“I can see where they are beneficial for the safety of the kids,” said Pelham.
“I think we should put them on there. We need to keep them safe,” said Commissioner Billy Earl Jones.
“I don’t want anyone thinking we don’t want our kids to be safe,” said Bell. “Of course we want them safe, but is it state law that narrowband radios have to be on there? If it is, then Jan. 1 they will have to have them or they can’t pick up our kids.”
“If the contract is not renewed in two years, you will have to put radios on the buses then anyway,” said Cox. “We would then have new radios instead of two-year-old radios.”
A motion was made to delay purchasing radios until after the meeting Oct. 25. Commissioners want to know if state law requires buses to have narrowband radios after Jan 1 as Pelham suggested. Commissioners also want to know if Durham will be agreeable to purchasing the radios with the stipulation Durham gets to keep the radios in the event its contract is not renewed.
Members of the Financial Management Committee present at the meeting were Pelham, Bell, Copeland, Jones, and Cox. Members absent were Herschel Wells and Levie Glenn.