Shelby County School Board outsources bus services in special-called meeting

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN

Shelby County school board members outsourced its bus services and approved new transportation software at a special-called meeting Tuesday.

It also gave a four-year transportation contract to Durham School Services to transport an estimated 117,000 students.

Shelby County School district expects to save $3.8 million from outsourcing transportation, according to its budget.  The district will be laying off all of its transportation employees.

Those employees expressed their concerns during public meeting in March.

In the four-year transportation contract with Durham, current Shelby County Schools bus drivers will have first choice of open positions. Employees are expected to begin meeting with Durham officials beginning on Wednesday. Drivers are expected to earn more money as Durham employees, administrators said.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II said the district’s goal is to not replicate the transportations problems that the district experienced at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year.

Several days into the school year, parents and students complained to the district that some bus routes were inconvenient and other buses were too crowded, according to August 2013 media reports from WREG and Local 24 ABC, .

Durham is also expected to purchase the district’s  fleet of buses for $5.2 million.   There will be 1,300 bus routes in the upcoming school year.  The fleet of buses expected to be used will be no more than seven years old and equipped with air-conditioning and GPS trackers.

Board member Teresa Jones had several questions about whether the district had been monitoring the quality of services that Durham School Services has provided previously.

“I know they can provide the service, but it’s the quality that I’m questioning,” Jones said.

In 5 -to -1 vote, board approves transportation contract with Durham.   Jones was sole dissenting vote.

“I can’t support it today. I thought we had more time,”  Jones said.

Hopson asked members of his administrative team to draft a report that answers Jones’ questions.

Board chairman Kevin Woods said the board didn’t have the option to delay making a decision on Tuesday.

“A vendor must be selected today,” Woods said.  When he asked school officials what would happen if a decision was not made, officials said school wouldn’t start on time.

The board also approved a contract with Education Logistics, Inc. , a company that produces software that allows school officials to manually change bus routes to increase the efficiency and punctuality of bus routes.

“Right now we’re mapping where all students reside and with a highly mobile population our current software doesn’t allow for us to manually change arrival and stop times,” said Hitesh Haria, who is the chief of business operations.

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at tcheshier@chalkbeat.org and (901) 730-4013.

Follow us on Twitter: @TajuanaCheshier@chalkbeattn.

Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chalkbeattn.

Sign up for our newsletter for regular updates on Tennessee education news: http://tn.chalkbeat.org/newsletter/

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.