School bus contract may not have given the district the best deal

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — School bus drivers in Shelby County spent this school year making headlines.

Mix in a company recruiting employees at 201 Poplar & having crash after crash, it was no surprise it raised concerns with the only one who school leaders said stepped up to do business here.

“It put you in an awkward position, yes it did. They had us over a barrel,” said Lisa Parker, School Board President, in Germantown’s Municipal District.

Parker said Durham had an advantage, and no other company had a chance.

“They needed to get the buses here and couldn’t do it. They couldn’t buy that many buses in that time,” said Parker.

First Student, the largest bus company in America, couldn`t step up without charging a huge amount of money to cover all the buses they would need to buy, in record time.

So how did Durham buy buses for all of Shelby County including the burbs in just a few short weeks when no one else could?

“They bought the buses from Shelby County Schools,” said Parker.

The only reason the school systems were stuck with Durham was because several weeks before Durham stepped up with an affordable deal, SCS sold all its existing buses to Durham.

It gave the company all the buses they needed – the ones no one else could find.

“If you give away the buses it’s going to stifle the ability for other competitors to make bids for transportation services,” said Lee Harris.

State Senator Lee Harris’ background as a lawyer involved negotiating contracts.

He said Shelby County’s decision could have put it at a disadvantage.

“It would be better practice to hold buses back and let everyone bid on services, the ability to offer operation of those buses you are going to invite more bids,” said Harris.

Shelby County’s practice was by the book.

You sell something; you take offers.

You need a service; you put out bids.

WREG found other districts around the country being more creative to get the best deal.

Santa Rosa County Florida hired Laidlaw to take over buses but made them use the buses the district owned, and they were required to buy 25 new buses a year.

“We did what we thought was best at the time; of course hindsight is 20/20,” said Teresa Jones, Shelby County’s School Board President.

Shelby County School Board member Stephanie Love said right now the board is looking at everything it did with Durham and what other options are available.

“At the end of the day it’s about going back and holding them accountable”, said Love”

A spokeswoman for Shelby County Schools said everyone was given the same opportunity to provide services and purchase the bus fleet.

Durham Services has similar contracts with other districts as it does with Shelby County, they certainly didn’t do anything wrong, but it may not have been in the best interest of all the districts.

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