By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support local journalism.
Private bus service hits some bumps
Placeholder Image

Director of Schools Dr. Jerry Hale fielded questions from county commissioners about the county’s new transportation company, Durham School Services.
The company took over maintenance and operation of all buses beginning this school year. Durham School Services is based in Warrenville, Ill.
The information gleaned from Dr. Hale’s answers indicate the transition to a private company encountered a few bumps in the road.
“How are the buses now that Durham’s running them?” asked Commissioner Terry Bell.
“They seem to be going OK,” said Hale. “They’re adjusting some routes. I know there was one where they were overloaded and had to take I think eight kids off one bus and put on another one, so they’ve been doing that kind of thing. They’ve not been able to get their software in place yet so they’re still using ours and our database. So once they get theirs in place that’ll free up what they’re doing and they can adjust the routes a little better. But as far as I know everything seems to be going OK.”
“Are all their drivers pretty well local?” asked Commissioner Morris Bond.
“Well, they offered everybody that we had a position with them,” said Hale. “Except two or three of them that didn’t pass the background check, they didn’t hire them. I think nine decided either to retire or do something else at this point. But they’ve been running ads in the paper and they say they’ll probably continue to do that because they like to have a quantity of substitute drivers and if people leave then they’ve got somebody trained and ready to go.”
According to school system human resource director Roy Pierce the system employed around 70 bus drivers, counting substitutes, and a total of 79 transportation department employees altogether. Pierce said the great majority of those, 64, took jobs with Durham.
“Pretty much every local employee who wanted a job and was qualified got hired,” Pierce said.
Former transportation director Melissa Orrick, who has 28 years with the school system, was offered a position with Durham, but opted to take another job with the school system. She now works in the career and technical education department under director Tracy Risinger.
Durham employee Brian Riley stepped in to take over running the department with the title of general manager. Local resident and former bus driver Brent Walling was hired as safety manager and will handle bus driver training.
Hale did say there were a few drivers used from outside the county early on.
“Now the first day they had to bring in some from Chattanooga,” Hale said. “But I think by the second week they had enough drivers and had them trained to where they were all local people.”
“I heard rumors that mechanics were driving the buses,” Bond said.
“They had to the first week,” Hale said. “They had to for a day or two. But I think they’ve pretty well got enough people now, or last time I talked to them they said they did.”
Hale said David Brabender, Durham’s regional vice president, had scheduled a meeting with all the drivers and employees to address any concerns they might have.
“There have been some adjustments,” Hale said. “Like for field trips they pay a straight hourly rate. The way the system had been doing it, and I don’t know how this was worked out this way, but they were paid extra when they crossed the county line. Like the school was billed, you know when you cross that little inlet where you go across Van Buren County as you go to Sparta, you got $15 for going that four miles. So some of them weren’t very happy they weren’t getting that anymore. So there’s been some adjustments on the field trips.”
“Are the buses out of your name now?” Bond asked. “Is Durham carrying insurance on them?”
“They’re carrying the insurance but they’re still in the board’s name,” Hale said. “They’re carrying liability and everything on them, yes.”
At one point the county offered to take over the transportation system. Such a move was even approved by the Warren County Commission. However, the move was voted down by the Board of Education, which opted to go with Durham School Services, citing an annual cost savings. The current contract has a three-year duration.