SCS withholds performance $ from bus contractor despite safety i - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

SCS withholds performance $ from bus contractor despite safety improvements

(Source: WMC Action News 5) (Source: WMC Action News 5)
MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) -

Shelby County Schools will withhold nearly a million dollars in performance pay from its bus contractor, despite the company posting its best safety record in four years.

According to Cerita Butler, SCS's interim chief of business operations, Durham School Services passed its primary student safety benchmarks during the first year of its new contract. Under the new contract, Durham was expected to achieve less than nine preventable accidents per month. Butler said Durham drivers were involved in only eight preventable accidents the entire school year. Butler said Durham also successfully reported all accidents involving children.

WMC Action News 5 documented 13 Durham school bus accidents in service of SCS during the 2015-16 school year. In nine of the crashes students were on board the bus, but not a single student suffered an injury that required hospitalization. Accident reports confirmed another driver was at fault in five of those accidents, while Durham drivers were at fault in two of the crashes. The responsible drivers in the remaining accidents are unclear.

Compare that to Durham's three previous years of service to SCS, in which the bus contractor averaged 83 accidents a year (251 crashes in three years). The records indicated its drivers were at fault in more than half of those incidences.

Also, whereas in the 2014-15 school year WMC Action News 5 exposed driver after driver with serious motor vehicle violations or felony histories, SCS confirmed this year, not a single Durham bus driver failed a background check or got fired for criminal behavior.

Westley Richters, COO of Durham's East Division, attributed those safety improvements to enhanced safety measures, including a state-of-the-art school bus simulator. 

"We believe those things have really attributed to and have helped us stick to our commitment, which is to deliver students to and from school very safely," Richters said.

"In spite of the improvements, they did not meet all of the benchmarks," Butler said. 

She said Durham failed to meet a benchmark of 95 percent on-time pick-ups and drop-offs. She attributed that failure to Durham pulling 30 to 40 of its SCS surplus drivers to fill needs at several other school districts nationwide. Butler said that caused unacceptable drop-off and pick-up delays at Shelby County schools.

Richters acknowledged the failure, chalking it up to an unanticipated driver shortage.

"We kind of lost track, and we didn't plan on the fact that we would have the attrition rate that ended up resulting," he said. "We're bringing back home all of those drivers that were out. That coupled with a very aggressive program this summer to really staff up."

Butler said Durham also failed to meet a benchmark of less than 11 mechanical or technical failures per month. The company's primary technical failures, she said, were in-bus video cameras and systems that do not work.

"When we request videos, and they are unable to provide those videos, we do consider that a technical failure," she said.

As a result, Butler said SCS will withhold $675,000 in performance pay from Durham's contract revenue.

"They will not receive that next year based on this year's performance," she said. "But we do have confidence that they are working to change that for next year."

"We need them to step it up," Shelby County Council PTA President Nina Ophelia Booker said. "We need them to get those cameras ready. I expect to know what's going on with a child on a bus. It's very dangerous not knowing these things."

"We were just having various problems with the [video] tapes coming loose or [problems with] some of the wiring within the system that were causing it not to capture the video," Richters acknowledged. "That's why our commitment this summer is to work with our third-party vendor as well as our internal team to keep those things [working], and we're going to be improving our processes. We don't plan on ever making those mistakes again."

Durham is also the school bus contractor for each of Shelby County's six municipal school districts. Dr. Russell Dyer, chief of staff for Collierville Schools and transportation spokesperson for all six municipal districts, released this statement on Durham's performance:

"The 2015-16 school year has seen an improvement in services from Durham School Services.The District and General Managers are very eager to communicate and work to maintain open lines of communication with the shared services transportation staff and parents. Durham School Services has been supportive of district activities in all municipals.The safety record for this year has improved significantly from the 2014-15 school year. During the 2015-16 school year, Durham did not employ any 'out of town' drivers, which was a positive. There continues to be a need for good and dependable drivers to ensure that all routes will be on time daily. We look forward to the 2016-17 school year and a continuation of improved services in all areas."

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