Durham School Services, the city schools’ new bus contractor, started its five-year contract in August.

Roanoke students will travel in school buses owned and operated by a different company starting next school year.

The Roanoke School Board on Tuesday agreed to a five-year contract with Durham School Services.

Beginning in August, Durham will provide all student transportation services for Roanoke City Public Schools, from daily routes to field trips, and maintain its own fleet of buses and vans.

The board’s vote was 5-0. School Board Chairwoman Annette Lewis and board member Bill Hopkins were absent. Superintendent Rita Bishop was also not in attendance.

Dan Lyons, deputy superintendent, delivered to the board an overview of how administrators reached a contract agreement with Durham.

The school division has outsourced all student transportation services to Mountain Valley Transportation since 2009. Because the current contract does not allow for any extensions beyond this school year, the school division was required to issue a request for proposal. Four companies submitted offers between December and the February 15 deadline.

A special committee of school administrators was tasked with selecting a vendor based on completeness of proposal, proposed service rates and fees, and other criteria. The committee narrowed the field down to three, including Durham and Mountain Valley, before ultimately selecting Durham and negotiating a contract.

The board discussed the contract briefly before voting Tuesday, with some members telling Lyons they’d reviewed the contract and felt all of their questions were answered. Board members Lutheria Smith and Eli Jamison said they were especially glad to know employees of Mountain Valley would have employment opportunities with Durham.

Lyons told the board the most significant point in contract negotiations was “to ensure Durham School Services would offer employment to all employees currently working for Mountain Valley” who wish to remain with the school division.

According to the contract, Durham “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. 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 about 144 drivers and 17 substitutes.

Following the meeting, school board Vice Chairman Mark Cathey told The Roanoke Times he was confident in the committee’s analysis and recommendation of Durham. The total annual cost estimated by Durham is also about $1 million less than what the school division has paid to its current provider, Cathey said.

In the base cost proposal attached to the contract, Durham estimated its total cost for routes in the 2019-20 school year at about $8.6 million. Durham also estimated its startup costs will total $606,434. The 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.

Durham serves more than 400 school districts in 31 states across the U.S. Its parent company, National Express LLC, is the North American subsidiary of National Express Group PLC. The school division would work with Durham to purchase vehicles from Mountain Valley if desired, per the contract. Mountain Valley, a subsidiary of Krapf Bus Companies, has about 160 buses in its fleet.

Lyons told the board Mountain Valley has provided exceptional service to the school division, and the decision to change providers is not a reflection of its quality of services.

Mountain Valley will continue providing transportation to the school system through July for summer programming. Lyons said school administrators will begin developing a transition team to ensure a smooth switch to Durham in August.

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