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Huntsville superintendent Matt Akin addresses school bus problems

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Superintendent Matt Akin met with Durham School Services, which contracts to handle Huntsville City Schools busing, to explain expectations.

The meeting was earlier this week.

"It was really about establishing our expectations of, certainly we want kids to go to school safely every day, and we want them on time," he said. "And I understand they have a challenging job of keeping bus drivers employed and things, but that's why we hire them."

Durham School Services has cited a driver shortage as a main reason for route disruptions.

Board member Pam Hill says she doesn't believe it's getting better, though, noting she received another complaint from a parent about busing before she came to the Huntsville City Schools board meeting Thursday evening. Some parents say their children are late to school because their bus is late picking them up, or that they are late coming back home.

"It infuriates me. It's our children we are talking about!" she said. "You should not pay for someone who is not meeting the needs of your school system."

Through the past few months, Huntsville City Schools parents have contacted board members and WHNT News 19 about bus problems. WHNT News 19 has reported on communication problems parents say they're having trying to get answers from Durham School Services, or information about their student's bus.

Hill called for an end to the district's relationship with Durham.

"Please, get rid of Durham buses!" she pleaded.

Superintendent Akin said he understands the frustration.

"When you transport as many students as we do, there's going to be some concerns," he said. "And frankly, I would be concerned about some of the things too if I were a parent."

He said he sees communication as the biggest speed bump so far. That's something he would like to get under control.

"We talked about maybe piloting some things where parents could easily get in touch with Durham to report problems and could get resolutions," he explained. "We have high expectations for their services, and what those expectations are moving forward for this year. And really also, we need a good, smooth start next year."

Akin said communication has to get better.

As for the future, Durham still has one year left on the contract. After that, it will need to be re-bid and that contract may even need to be changed. Akin said the work will begin this summer to look at the contract and see what needs to change for next time.

We asked him if Huntsville City Schools would decide to handle its own busing, instead of using a contractor.

"It's a big transition to go from contracting buses to running your own bus system," he said. "We consider all options, though."