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Roanoke City Public Schools’ new transportation provider, Durham School Services, is struggling to get students to and from school on time.

The transportation provider for Roanoke City Public Schools said Tuesday the general manager for local operations is no longer with the company.

A spokesman for Durham School Services, which the school board selected as its new provider in April, said Arne Stensaker’s employment with the company ended Friday.

The company declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding his departure, but said the search for a replacement is underway.

It’s been a bumpy transition for Durham, as buses have been late to pick up and drop off students, sometimes by as much as an hour and a half.

And the problems appear to be ongoing. On Tuesday, one week into the new school year, a posting on the school division’s website warned that a number of buses could be delayed in the afternoon.

Roanoke has outsourced transportation since 2009. It previously worked with Mountain Valley Transportation.

Deputy Superintendent Dan Lyons told school board members at a Tuesday meeting that the division would “own” its mistakes and said operations were improving and would continue to do so.

On the first day of school there were a handful of communication issues, Lyons said. Those ranged from parents struggling to reach Durham representatives to get information on their child’s whereabouts to elementary school buses just arriving to take students home at the time the division expected the buses would be loaded and departing the lot.

Since then, Lyons said he set a goal of improving every day, which he feels has been achieved.

The number of delayed buses has been steadily decreasing; Lyons estimated there were fewer than 10 late buses at the elementary school level on Friday. But because the division is on a “dual run” system, when a bus is tardy at the elementary level it creates problems at the secondary level.

One of the biggest problems is a shortage of bus drivers.

Durham offered jobs to drivers that worked for Mountain Valley, the previous provider, if they had a safe driving record and could pass a physical. Lyons said five drivers were lost because their driving records were deemed “unsatisfactory” and a few others failed their physicals.

The division obviously doesn’t want drivers who can’t safely operate their own car behind the wheel of a bus, Lyons said. But in some instances where the driver had just a single ticket Durham may be able to work with them, he said, noting that one driver went back to court and had a charge reduced by a judge.

Durham also has a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to talking on the phone while driving, Lyons said, which some drivers “didn’t think they were serious” about. When asked if any drivers had been dismissed because of this, Lyons directed questions to Durham.

“We have been running late, but I’m not going to apologize for the lack of drivers because we’re holding our drivers to high standards and safety is number one,” he said.

Lyons said 18 people are currently being trained to become bus drivers, which he hopes will lead to the elimination of double runs.

As of Tuesday, the division had 10 double runs, but Lyons said it would be good to add around 15 drivers, in case someone calls in sick or takes off.

“The question today was do I regret bringing Durham on board and the answer is absolutely not,” Lyons said. “I think we’re going to provide quality service and a safe service to our students.”

Board members emphasized that the division took responsibility for the problems and was working to address them.

“We’re happy to take praise when things go right, we’ll take blame when things go wrong,” said Chairman Mark Cathey.

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Casey Fabris covers business for The Roanoke Times, where she has been a reporter since 2015. Previously, Casey covered Franklin County.

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