Durham CEO promises big changes are coming

Durham CEO promises big changes to background checks, driving record checks, more
Published: Nov. 6, 2014 at 10:31 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 7, 2014 at 2:06 PM CST
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David Duke (Source: WMC Action News 5)
David Duke (Source: WMC Action News 5)

Big changes are coming to Shelby County Schools and Durham School Services when it comes to buses. All of it is the result of a WMC Action News 5 investigation.

One after another over the past few months,WMC Action News 5 has documented 13 Durham school bus crashes since school started. By SCS's own admission, there have been more than 40 accidents this year.

After the crashes, criminal histories, and mistakes brought to light in the WMC Action News 5 investigation, Durham School Services CEO David A. Duke arrived in Memphis Thursday to forge a 3-point plan with Shelby County Schools to fix what's gone wrong with his drivers.

Duke said one accident is too many. Forty-two accidents between August and October is 42 too many. One driver was busted with marijuana and violent felony record. Another driver was found to have a suspended license and eight unpaid traffic tickets.

"Well, they shouldn't have been hired," Duke said.

Durham has fired 30 of its Memphis drivers and personnel for accidents or policy violations since the beginning of the year.

SCS also had to consider Durham's 3-year track record in Memphis and Shelby County. It consists of 120 accidents in the 2012-2013 school year, with 45 percent of its drivers at fault. In the 2013-2014 school year, 52 percent of its drivers were cited in 89 accidents. And so far this year, 42 accidents have occurred with 60 percent of bus drivers at fault.

"I considered whether the district, the board should look at termination of this contract," said SCS Board Chair Teresa Jones. "That was a real consideration."

To save his company's bus contract with SCS, he forged a plan with the district to re-screen all existing bus drivers - 1,000 in all. They will also increase the frequency of random drug and alcohol testing on all drivers, and implement a full driver recruitment plan by December -- one that does not include recruiting drivers outside of the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center.

"These goals much be achieved in order to provide safe transportation for our students," said SCS Superintendent Dorsey Hopson.

Duke admitted both Durham's and the district's background checks failed miserably in allowing accused pot-smoking driver Marsai Catron, a convicted violent felon, and Tommy Anderson, who had a suspended license, to transport students.

He said Durham will implement a third-party background check early in the hiring process from now on. They will also implement criminal record reconciliation with federal, state, and local agencies and have management sign off on every check, when before there was no management accountability.

"If you are convicted of a violent felony, you will not drive a bus. Period," Hopson added.

"The point of the process and the corrections that we've got is to make sure that it doesn't happen again," Duke said.

The re-screening of every Durham bus driver for SCS will begin next week. Durham will also pull every driver's motor vehicle records four times each year instead of twice.

Durham also developed new training and trouble-shooting strategies that will dispatch safety teams and supervisors to every accident scene to assess the mistake in order to stop anymore from happening.

"There have been some mistakes made. There have been some gaps, and we're going to move forward and correct that appropriately," Duke said.

Duke asked for forgiveness and perspective. When Durham took on the unified SCS district, it doubled the number of school buses to tackle 54,000 miles of routes a day.

Copyright 2014 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.