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LISD nixes Durham contract

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By LPR Staff
Editor/POST-REGISTER

For several years, members of the Lockhart ISD Board of Trustees have pondered the best way to get students to and from school. At the forefront of the conversation has been the fact that under the current contract with service provider Durham Transportation, the district has not owned a fleet of buses – leaving the district i

n a vulnerable position should Durham decide to cancel the contract.

On Monday night, at the recommendation of Assistant Superintendent Cliff Gardner and under protest from more than a dozen Durham employees present at the meeting, the Trustees opted to change directions.

Beginning in the 2010-2011 school year, LISD will turn over management of the contract to Student Transportation Services, and purchase a fleet of buses to fulfill it.

“With the ownership of our buses, we have the control and leverage to see that the parts and equipment are purchased locally, etc. at the end of the contract, we will have assets,” Gardner said. “By owning our own fleet, we can see about contracting with ACC to help the dual credit students. I can see the auto tech being offered an additional mechanic program and spend time working on our fleet. I see that as a great benefit to our kids.”

He also said that numerous complaints have been lodged by parents and teachers about Durham drivers and safety on the current fleet of buses.

Chief among those complaints, according to Gardner, is the current lack of digital camera equipment on the buses. He said the VHS systems currently installed are inadequate to provide for security needs, and the new buses will be equipped with four-camera digital systems that will allow better supervision.

The figures presented during Monday”s meeting suggest the purchase of the buses and the new contract will amount to an increase of nearly $27,000 per year over the next several years. However Durham representative Robert Hatchett, Jr., said that figure might not be accurate.

“In the bid that we presented, we not only agreed to purchase whatever type of buses the district wants going forward, and to install the cameras and GPS systems in all the buses, we reduced our rate,” he said. “Overall, continuing the partnership we”ve had for more than 25 years would have reduced costs for the district by some $127,000 per year.”

Hatchett, the Senior Vice President for Customer Service in North America for Durham”s parent company, National Express, voiced concern the Trustees were given an apples-and-oranges comparison during the meeting, with extensive discussion being held over the current rates charged by Durham, without reference to the discounts and upgrade equipment suggested in the newly-bid contract.

“The trustees kept asking about the STS proposed rate, and our current rate,” he said. “However, I think it”s important that the rates in the new proposal weren”t discussed, and the eventual cost will be more than $750,000 over the next four years.”

After the decision, several Durham employees gathered outside the meeting and expressed displeasure and surprise at the decision, which ends a professional relationship that has lasted for more than 25 years. However, they all agreed that the board”s decision will not impact the service they provide until the end of the school year.

“Our priority is to get our children to school, on time, safely and ready to learn,” Hatchitt said. “And we have no intention of changing that, until the very last day that we provide service. The students are the most important thing, and we will absolutely honor our commitment to Lockhart”s children.”

The termination of the Durham contract does not necessarily mean local bus drivers will find themselves unemployed next year. Hatchitt said Durham will make every effort to find new positions for drivers who wish to remain with Durham, and said it is likely STS will hire drivers from the available pool, when the time comes.

The purchase of the buses, which will total nearly $4.9 million, will be wrapped into the district”s existing transportation budget, and should not require a tax increase, according to CFO Tina Knudsen.

In other business:
The Board heard a presentation from Special Education Director Monica Parks regarding the District”s dyslexia program. Parks said special efforts are made, beginning at the Pre-K and Kindergarten level, to recognize the most common signs of dyslexia and identify the children who may suffer from the learning disorder, enabling staff to assist them earlier.

Gardner delivered an Energy Program Report, detailing the steps the district has taken to preserve natural resources. In the last year, Gardner said, the district has saved more than $18,000 through a “concentrated team effort” to preserve.

Representatives from the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) offered information about a recently-completed salary survey intended to help the district bring salaries more in line with education salaries across the region. Their suggestions, which include nearly a $1 million in pay increase, will be considered at greater depth as the Trustees begin budget negotiations next month.

The Trustees recognized nearly a dozen reading mentors for their volunteer efforts with the students at Plum Creek Elementary.

They applauded eight students who have advanced to the State Level in UIL Music Competitions, and four students who have been nominated to the nation”s military academies.

The Lockhart ISD Board of Trustees meets on the fourth Monday of each month, beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Conference Center (Old Library) at Lockhart High School. The meetings are open to the public and parents, students and taxpayers are encouraged to attend and participate.

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