School officials considering how to ditch Durham busing

School officials considering how to ditch Durham busing

Company blames troubles on driver shortage

CUMBERLAND – The town still has two years left on its busing contract with Durham School Services, but school officials are now preparing to move on from the embattled company when their troubled partnership is up.

A representative for the company is blaming its problems on an ongoing driver shortage, saying that Durham values its relationship with Cumberland.

School Committee Chairman Paul DiModica said Tuesday that school board members have asked Supt. Robert Mitchell to check with other districts in northern Rhode Island to see if they’re interested in joining up on a larger busing contract. A more sizable contract could bring a company in from out of state, he said.

Mitchell said the idea is that the school districts in the Northwest Schools Consortium founded in 2010, Cumberland, Lincoln, Smithfield, North Smithfield and Burrillville, would follow the path they’ve taken in finding savings in other areas to do the same with a bus contract. There has already been some talk of a joint transportation contract both to improve efficiency and save money, he said.

The biggest issue right now, said Mitchell, is that all districts are in different places with their current contracts, so they’ll have to figure out how to align them “so we could at least think about making a pitch together” to achieve economy of scale.

On Durham’s chronic issues returning this year, Mitchell said school officials are extremely frustrated.

“At some point, things seem to iron out,” he said. “To be honest, the performance up to this point has been disappointing and I think unacceptable.”

Conversations need to look forward about how to fix the problems, said Mitchell.

“Durham knows how we feel about how things have gone this school year,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate situation.”

The primary issue continues to be bus drivers not being able to complete their routes on time, said DiModica. On Monday, there were two more bus runs that got done very late, he said. The bus tracking app used by parents also isn’t up and running, he said.

DiModica said during last Thursday’s school board meeting that he, Mitchell, and school board member Mark Fiorillo met with Durham the Friday before and Durham representatives showed up late for that 10:30 a.m. meeting.

“We expressed our utter disgust with them about how they’ve treated the schoolchildren of Cumberland,” said DiModica. He said officials also reached out to corporate about the ongoing issues.

“What they’re doing is just wrong,” said DiModica, adding that the company simply isn’t prepared.

Local Durham representatives deferred comment to company spokesman Edward Flavin. Flavin released a statement Tuesday afternoon.

“We have had the pleasure of serving the Cumberland Public Schools and their students since 2015. Regarding late buses, we have experienced a driver shortage like most of the country and we continue to recruit for safe drivers for our team,” he said. “Durham School Services is currently offering sign-on bonuses for qualified drivers and leading wages to try and attract the right candidates. Currently, we are short over 15 drivers in northern Rhode Island, with 12 people actively in training.”

DiModica said new Durham General Manager Armando Ferreira previously agreed with School Committee members when they said they’d hoped he’d be a ghost this year.

“They were nowhere even close, and I’m very disgusted with Durham right now,” he said. “They’re the wrong bus provider for this town.”

All committee members are getting phone calls every day about the situation, he said. Mitchell and his team have been making constant return calls, and will continue to stay on the case.

DiModica told The Breeze Tuesday that Durham representatives originally said they had the drivers to run busing in town, but subsequently saw a number of employees leave after competing bus company First Student offered $3,500 sign-on bonuses. Those bonuses in Cumberland are only $2,000.

“They’re leaving for the money,” he said.

Residents might notice a number of Durham signs around town seeking new bus drivers.

Comments

Hmmm. There is a shortage of drivers? Maybe Durham is not paying people enough. A quick look on indeed.com and the average salary is $18 per hr. With all due respect to the current drivers, as this is not their problem, I wouldn’t get out of bed for $18 per hr. As an individual who still holds a current CDL from a previous life, I was making $18 per hr in 1995. Durham is a billion dollar plus company. Maybe they should rethink their strategy. For now, getting rid of them is long overdue. It’s time for them to go. The school dept needs to stop making deals with them and cut their losses.

How is it possible that "all districts are in different places with their current contracts." Wouldn't the bus contract be with the Town of Cumberland, not, for example, Garvin School?

That sentence goes with the paragraph before it.

**~~~
Mitchell said the idea is that the school districts in the Northwest Schools Consortium founded in 2010, Cumberland, Lincoln, Smithfield, North Smithfield and Burrillville, would follow the path they’ve taken in finding savings in other areas to do the same with a bus contract. There has already been some talk of a joint transportation contract both to improve efficiency and save money, he said.

The biggest issue right now, said Mitchell, is that all districts are in different places with their current contracts, so they’ll have to figure out how to align them “so we could at least think about making a pitch together” to achieve economy of scale.
~~~**

the idea is to combine districts to have one transportation contract that covers multiple districts.