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WREG opens up report card on Durham as school year begins

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Students won't be the only ones getting a grade for their performance this school year.

As part of Durham's nearly $25 million contract with Shelby County Schools, the system reviews several metrics for the provider on a monthly basis, including the on-time arrival of buses.

Through open records, WREG reviewed hundreds of complaints about Durham, from the 2015 and 2016 school years.

News Channel 3 found two years in a row when Durham fell short of its performance target for on-time arrivals, scoring what's equivalent to a "B" and then a "C."

That same data for the 2016-2017 school year wasn't readily available, but parents and district leaders are hoping the company makes the grade this school year.

The school year hasn't started, but Durham bus drivers are already on the road. On Wednesday and Thursday, drivers ran bus routes in real time, hoping to work out any kinks.

Erica Chaffin is hoping for a smooth ride Monday.

She said, "Never had to ride the bus, but she's riding the bus this year."

Her 11th-grader, Essence, is a first-time bus rider, and like any parent, Chaffin has some concerns.

"Kind of skeptical about her riding the bus because they go kind of early, like 6:45."

That very issue surfaced in the hundreds of complaints WREG reviewed about Durham from 2015 and 2016.

One parent said the bus was late two days in a row; another said their bus never even showed up, so their daughter didn't make it to school.

Speaking of missing, one parent said their child was scheduled to take the ACT and "...called frantic and crying..." after waiting 45 minutes for the bus that later drove right past her.

Even school administrators weighed in, saying "this has been going on all year" and calling it a "classic example of poor service."

When the buses were still late on the week of state testing, the administrator wrote, "Our scholars cannot be fully TNREADY if they're not able to get a ride to school!"

Beth Phalen is the new chief of business operations for Shelby County Schools.

She told WREG Wednesday, "I think that there are two major components to on-time arrival. I think one is staffing levels."

Phalen says right now Durham is 100 percent staffed and throughout the year, SCS will tightly monitor the company's retention and turnover.

"The other element is the tightness of our routes. We have to watch the tightness to ensure that we allow enough time to be on time," explained Phalen.

Which is another reason those practice routes are so critical.

"Hopefully there won't be an issue that I hope the bus come and get her on time and from school on time but if it does, I'll just have to go and get her and assist with that," said Chaffin.

Durham school services also have an app you can download that tracks school buses. Get the app.