Hamilton Co. school board members fear safety is at risk if bus system doesn't change

Hamilton County school board member Rhonda Thurman says if the bus system doesn't change, children could be in danger. (Image: WTVC)

Hamilton County school board member Rhonda Thurman says if the bus system doesn't change, children could be in danger.

Thurman says the problems with transportation need to take priority in the 2019 Hamilton County School Budget.

She tells NC9, "I am always nervous if you are not properly trained something could go wrong. "

Thurman claims that there is a shortage of drivers which leads the district to hastily hire new ones. She says the shortage could be fixed if the district cut down routes.

Right now she says that the district is serving schools that it "shouldn't be."

Thurman says," If you wanna go to school to outside your zone you should be providing transportation." She says that there is currently a system that serves magnet schools and only has a few children on the bus.

Thurman argues, "The only solution is if you cant hire enough bus drivers than u have to cut down the routes."

We reached out to Durham about the complaints about training, and they said while there is a shortage, each driver exceeds Tennessee's requirement for training.

Durham's statement reads:

"We hold the highest available safety rating awarded by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). With advanced technologies, we now have the safest, most advanced vehicles in Chattanooga. We are the only student transportation provider in the U.S. to have a cloud-based system available that logs all complaints, concerns and questions in a centralized database—called BusReport. Anyone can make a report, which is accessible from a phone number on the back of the buses or through a web portal. BusReport captures driver trends that we review and address.
We also have implemented DriveCam, a smart-camera safety technology, providing greater visibility to driver behaviors, and allow us to coach, retrain and correct behavior where needed. These are just two examples of the many safety measures we have implemented, and we continue make improvements.
With respect to driver staffing and safety, there is a driver shortage, and we have been covering all routes. There is a very rigorous process in becoming a Durham driver. It takes four to six weeks to ensure they are fully vetted and trained. Candidates must complete 20 hours of classroom and 20 hours of behind-the-wheel training. To ensure that we are hiring the safest drivers possible, our training program exceeds the requirements for operating a school bus in Tennessee.
We currently run 171 routes for the Hamilton County School District, and serve four charter schools; there are no policies or laws that require a student transportation provider to limit the number of routes they serve."

Although another school board member, Dr. Steve Highlander, says he too believes training is an issue. Highlander is currently a licensed CDL driver and says he understands the system well.

He says, "I would like to see us go into more detailed training... I think some of them (Durham Drivers) are very inexperienced... it is a part-time job they do for a little."

In the end she feels it is her duty to make sure something changes. She says, "We are the people right there sitting on the board-the 9 of us are responsible."

The school budget proposal does include hiring a router for the transportation department.

The budget still has two more workshops before it comes to a vote in front of the board.

After that it will need to be presented to the county commissioners.

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