The Roanoke School Board will vote Tuesday on a contract with a new student transportation provider after 10 years with Mountain Valley Transportation.
The board will consider a five-year contract with Durham School Services, a division of National Express LLC. Durham would begin busing students in August.
The structure of the deal is similar to the agreement the board reached in 2009 with Mountain Valley. Durham would transport students to and from school and various extracurricular activities, own and maintain all school buses and vans and have cameras and GPS tracking in all buses, according to the proposed contract. All route assignments must be completed on time to avoid financial penalties.
Durham would serve as an independent contractor responsible for hiring and paying its own drivers, mechanics and other related personnel.
The company “shall extend offers of employment at will to all bus drivers and bus aides currently employed by the current transportation contractor” who meet the standards set by the state and Durham, according to the contract. Bus drivers and bus aides will be hired at the same rate paid to them by the current transportation contractor and with comparable benefits, per the contract.
Mountain Valley employs 144 drivers and 17 substitutes, according to figures provided by the school division last fall.
In its base cost proposal, Durham estimated its total cost for routes in the 2019-20 school year at about $8.6 million. The estimate includes regular routes, after-school buses, midday runs and summer school runs and other transport. The company also would charge $32 per bus per hour for field trips, and hire bus aides for $19 per hour.
Startup costs would total $606,434 and cover administration and mechanic startup labor, driver and monitor startup labor, training, recruitment, professional services and mileage. The startup costs would be paid by the school system over five years as part of monthly service invoices, the contract states. Durham would also charge the school system $20,820 to secure a 10 percent performance bond.
The school system would work with Durham to obtain the existing fleet from Mountain Valley, at fair market value, if desired, per the contract. Durham is required in the contract to maintain a fleet with an average of eight years, with no buses older than 15 years.
Mountain Valley has 162 buses in its fleet with an average age of 5.3 years, based on figures provided by the school system last fall. When Mountain Valley was first hired, it bought most of the school division’s buses for about $2 million, according to a 2009 report by The Roanoke Times.
The school division maintains a central facility that stores Mountain Valley’s fleet and provides a bus garage, transportation office and parking areas.
Durham was recommended to the board by a selection committee comprised of Deputy Schools Superintendent Dan Lyons, Chief Financial Officer Kathleen Jackson, Director of Transportation Stan Crowgey, Athletics Director and Coordinator of Health, Physical and Driver Education F.L. Slough and Breckinridge Middle School Principal Tracey Anderson.
Mountain Valley, a subsidiary of Krapf Bus Companies, will complete its contract with Roanoke this summer. The school division had renewed Mountain Valley’s contract for five years in 2014, but no additional extensions remained on the deal. As required by the state, the school division issued a request for proposal for student services in December, and four companies submitted offers prior to a Feb. 15 deadline.
Three of the companies — Mountain Valley, Durham and North America Central School Bus — were asked to pitch their services to the selection committee. Each company was evaluated based on its submitted services, bus replacement plans, estimated rates and fees, experience and references.
The committee then chose Durham School Services before negotiating a contract.
According to the school division, “the selection of Durham School Services is not a reflection on the quality of service received by the current transportation provider, Mountain Valley Transportation.”
The company “has provided exceptional service and the school division extends heartfelt appreciation and warm wishes to Mountain Valley Transportation and the Krapf Bus Companies,” according to the division’s statement.
The Roanoke Times reached out to Mountain Valley Tuesday for comment but a representative was not immediately available.
The school board’s decision to outsource transportation amid the recession was aimed at cutting costs related to purchasing and maintenance.
In each of the past two school years, Roanoke paid Mountain Valley about $11.7 million.
Durham serves more than 400 school districts in 31 states in the U.S. Its parent company, National Express LLC, is the North American subsidiary of National Express Group PLC, a major transportation firm in the United Kingdom.
The school board will be asked to authorize Superintendent Rita Bishop to sign the contract with Durham during the board’s meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Patrick Henry High School.