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Huntsville City Schools is ready for a new contract for bus services

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - After a year of complaints about school buses taking Huntsville City Schools students to school and back each day, change may be on the way.

The school system has a rocky history with Durham School Services, which provides transportation under a contract with the school system. But that contract is about to expire, and the district has collected bids for student bus transportation. After putting the contract up for bid, three interested companies replied. District leaders were not ready to say whether Durham School Services is one of them.

Administrators say the district is looking for a company to serve a year-long contract with renewal options up to five years.

"That gives some safety for the school system. If things aren't going well, we can certainly re-bid," remarked Superintendent Matt Akin.

The company must provide, among other things, pricing for buses with radio, video capabilities, cameras, wifi options, air conditioning, and a way to monitor each route. The district isn't just looking for the lowest bidder, but the bidder who can actually do what they've priced and do it well, Akin said.

"Now we are in the process of evaluating those bids," he commented.

The new contract will include a raise for bus drivers, who currently make a minimum of $15.50/hour according to district officials. The new contract would require the vendor to pay at least $20.00/hour. That's a bigger deal than it seems. One administrator said at the meeting that current rates are "just not competitive."

"We're thinking that will help whoever receives the bid to attract more qualified drivers," said Akin. "A lot of the times when we have late routes, it's because we didn't have enough drivers. We had buses there, but we just didn't have drivers...  I think that's been the biggest challenge."

Busing is complex. Lots of work has already been done to solve the problems between Durham and Huntsville City Schools and to make the situation better. There has been work to improve.

No matter who gets the new contract, Akin said that work will continue.

"I just think that no matter who the vendor is, our expectations are high and I expect us to continue to improve," said Akin.