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School board chooses Durham
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The Warren County School Board chose to privatize the school system’s transportation department Thursday night by entering into a contract with Durham School Services, a private company based in Warrensville, Ill.
The decision came after the board reviewed three proposals, including the one from Durham, one from current transportation director Melissa Orrick and a last minute proposal from Warren County government.
The board’s move toward privatization, which was discovered after bids were posted in the Southern Standard last month, did not sit well with commissioners and County Executive John Pelham, eventually leading to the county’s offer to take over the transportation department.
The county, with the help of Director of Schools Dr. Jerry Hale, subsequently drew up a resolution outlining its proposal, which passed 22-1 at a special meeting of the commission Monday night and was presented to the School Board Tuesday morning.
At the regular monthly meeting of the School Board Thursday night School Board member Scott Holmes made the motion to go with Durham.
“We’ve all looked at each of the three proposals that have been presented to us,” Holmes said. “After looking at the proposals I think at this time the most beneficial  thing would be to make a motion to accept the proposal from Durham School Services, and that’s my motion.”
The School Board voted unanimously to go with Durham.
Some of the reasons cited for the move were the inefficiency of the current transportation system, safety considerations and the potential cost savings presented to the school system by the utilization of Durham’s bulk purchasing advantages as the nation’s second largest school transportation service.
Although the county’s proposal was given serious consideration, some board members felt the added responsibility of operating the transportation system, with the maintenance of a large number of vehicles, plus taking on around 60 new county employees, might eventually put an undue strain on the county’s resources, considering the current financial situation the county is facing, with a lawsuit and possible wheel tax referendum pending.
School officials felt this, along with the county’s relative inexperience with operating a transportation system, made a nationally known and experienced school transportation company like Durham a better choice, and would allow the county to focus on other issues without the distraction of running the transportation system.
Pelham said he felt the county offered a viable alternative to privatization, but understood the School Board’s concerns.
“First of all, I really think that Dr. Hale and I worked hard on this,” Pelham said. “He put in a lot of time on this the last couple of weeks, and I appreciate that. I really think the county commission and the school administration partnered to try to come up with something, and that’s a positive thing.”
Pelham said he was also impressed with the efforts of commissioners in committee meetings on the subject.
“I’m very proud of the fact that in meetings we had with county commissioners the importance of our children was discussed and one of the important things to commissioners was seeing to the needs of our children,” Pelham said. “I’d also like to say I’m very proud of our county commission, since this was something I brought to them that they didn’t have a lot of time to digest. It was very short notice, but we had overwhelming support from our commissioners, and I’m grateful to them for that, and I definitely want to thank the Education Committee for all their hard work.”
Pelham said he also appreciated the efforts of his personal assistant Carol Cantrell and director of accounts Linda Hillis.
“Of course ultimately was the School Board’s decision,” Pelham continued. “And we knew that going in, but we just wanted to work hard and do a good job in presenting another option to the school system.”

Hale says Durham will officially take over the transportation department at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year, but would begin work once the contract is signed.
“They’re going to start the process fairly soon,” Hale said. “Getting everything set up and interviewing and talking with the drivers.”
Hale said Durham official want to find out how many current drivers are interested in applying with the company so they can start the hiring process to replace any employees who opt not to do so.
Hale says the school board asked Durham to give all current employees the chance to apply for a job with them, including drivers, mechanics and the current director.
“They promised to interview everybody that’s employed by us that wants to go with them,” Hale said. “And I hope that they do that.”
Hale says now the decision has been made, the board is ready to proceed with the move to a privatized school transportation system, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
“All the details, as far as the transition, are still being worked out,” Hale said, noting that one concern will be addressed. “We’ve got to get a final contract and get it all signed, but we’ve agreed to put in $1.7 million and make that a ceiling, so they can’t go over that. If it looks like there is a problem at that point we’ll monitor and they’ll monitor and we sit down together and decide what we need to do. So to the argument that their price will go up or go over, we’re putting it in the contract that there is a ceiling.”
Hale said after hearing Durham’s presentation, the board felt confident that the company will provide a high level of service to the school system and the students, and in the end, that had the most influence on the board’s decision.