School Board Looking for New Bus Company - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

04/06/06

School Board Looking for New Bus Company

If Laidlaw won't be running the school buses that travel all around Chatham County next year, who will? The Savannah-Chatham County Board of Public Education's decision to end its contract with the bus service has left a lot of questions about what happens next.

Most of the same bus drivers will be behind the wheel. What we don't know is what company they will be working for. But that search has started already.

"I think we were left with no alternative," said Lori Brady, one of the school board members who voted to get rid of Laidlaw.

After years of parent complaints, missed buses and accidents, she feels Chatham County learned its lesson. It was time to fix the system. "The district says you've got to improve, you've got to improve, you've got to improve and the service has not improved, it's gotten worse."

Brady says the search for a replacement has started already. The problem is there are only a few companies they know of that can do the job. But that doesn't mean she believes the school system should take charge of its own transportation. "It's a tough business," she said. "Anytime you include children, people are emotional about their children. I'm emotional about my children. You got to get it right. It's not a service that I would want to provide."

But the future may change her opinion, and Chatham County's plans. "Instead of doing a five-year contract, do a three-year contract and give them the opportunity to provide the service in the manner we expect, and also give us the opportunity to look into providing the service in house."

Board members say they hope the next contract may pay bus drivers better. Because, although it will cost more in the long run, they believe better pay will lead to better service for the kids.

That's why Brady says the board will scrutinize any company who bids, making sure they offer a full compliment of drivers, including a "bench" of extras, promise to get kids to a from school on time, every day, or face the consequences.

"I want a service provider to really understand that we have to provide this service as we've started in the contract," Brady said. "If we don't, it's going to be a very long day for us."

Former Chatham County schools chief operating officer George Bowen agrees with Brady when it comes to in-house bus service. He says the last time the county tried to take care of the buses itself, it was even worse than the last few years with Laidlaw.

The school board isn't just waiting for bus companies to come to them. Brady is headed to a conference tomorrow where she hopes to find other possible suitors. And with only 45 days to make a decision about the county's future, every option helps.

Reported by: Andrew Davis, andrewdavis@wtoc.com

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