Shelby County PTA pres. says Durham "stretched pretty thin" for safety

Shelby County PTA pres. says Durham "stretched pretty thin" for safety
Published: Nov. 12, 2014 at 9:59 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 12, 2014 at 11:32 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Shelby County's chief PTA leader said Wednesday she has doubts that Durham School Services can pull off its three-point plan to enhance the safety and training of its school bus drivers.

Terri Harris, president of the

, reacted to Durham's own incident statistics, provided exclusively to WMC Action News 5 by SCS. In the last three years the company has served Memphis and Shelby County:

2012/13:  120 accidents/incidents/54 drivers at fault  (45%)
2013/14:   89 accidents/incidents/46 drivers at fault  (52%)
2014/15 (Aug-Oct):  42 accidents/incidents/25 drivers at fault (60%)

All combined, Durham's drivers were at fault in nearly half of the 251 accidents.

Last year, Shelby County Schools approved the assumption of Durham's four-year legacy contract with Memphis City Schools to provide school bus services through 2014/15 at a cost of more than $25 million a year.

"It sounds like they're stretching themselves pretty thin and having trouble hiring good drivers," said Harris. "Any time a school district hires a private company for bus service, the priority should be on student safety, not money."

SCS board member

held a private meeting with

Wednesday. He said Elliott assured him the company is taking steps to implement its three-point safety plan in response to an on-going WMC Action News 5 investigation of Durham's safety procedures and training.

Durham CEO David A. Duke promised a package of enhancements to SCS's contract that would include the re-screening of all 1,000 drivers serving SCS, an increased frequency in driver drug and alcohol testing, and an enhanced driver recruitment plan to be developed by December. The plan was forged in the wake of our stories of continuous accidents and incidents, including a driver who wrecked while on a suspended license for $900 in unpaid traffic fines and a driver with a felony record arrested for possession of marijuana on his bus while on duty.

Wednesday, McCormick said Elliot not only guaranteed implementation of the plan, but also promised to hold Durham drivers accountable for their personal vehicle driving histories.

"If they are given a citation for exceeding the speed limit over 15 miles per hour, they can be subject to termination," McCormick said. "If they are involved in an automobile accident in their private vehicles, and they're at fault, they can be subject to termination."

McCormick said any talk of terminating Durham's contract is out of the question. He said there is no other private company that could assume the infrastructure of 500 buses, 1,200 routes and 54,000 miles a day demanded by the unified district. He said such a company would likely end up with the same pool of drivers, anyway.

He also suggested it would be too expensive for SCS to take back control of its school bus operations.

"Right now, I think that we need to work with the company that we have until we get to the point that we feel they can't perform the job," he said.

Carina Noble, Durham's vice president of communications, said the company would have no comment about its meeting with McCormick. Noble said it would also not offer a media availability with its executives Thursday when they meet with leaders of the county's six municipal school districts. In an exclusive WMC Action News 5 story, those leaders said they expected to be promised the same contract enhancements as SCS.

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