Durham continues fight to be Charleston Co. school bus provider as new company starts

VIDEO: Durham continues fight to be Charleston Co. school bus provider as new company starts

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - First Student has officially become the school bus provider for the Charleston County School District, but the previous company in charge continues their fight to reclaim the role.

On Wednesday, the new company’s contract worth more than $24 million began, but Mark Peper, a lawyer for the ousted longtime bus provider Durham School Services, said they’re not giving up.

“Durham has proposed a resolution to the school district whereby they would continue providing transportation to the students,” Peper said. “Unfortunately, the school district has yet to respond to our proposed resolution which gives us no choice but to continue the litigation process.”

At the beginning of January, the school district announced their plans to hire First Student, a division of First Group, to run their buses. That company has since publicly announced it is looking to sell their bus division.

Durham then filed a protest. When that failed, they filed an appeal. In that appeal, its lawyers said the district hiring another bus company was an “illegal decision” since Durham’s contract would have cost millions less.

In March, Durham’s lawyers fought during a more than six-hour hearing in front of the procurement panel, which later ruled against them. Their lawyers then took the battle to court.

“We’re not at liberty to discuss what’s being litigated. Obviously, we’re appealing the procurement panel’s decision,” Peper said. “I can say on Durham’s behalf that that litigation continues and is scheduled to be heard at a date certain.”

According to next year’s budget, the school district is set to spend $2.7 million more on the new transportation contract. District Chief Financial Officer Don Kennedy said that’s because of a number of factors.

“Part of this new contract entails hiring additional bus drivers, so we can make sure we have all of our routes covered, and a part of that is just normal contract escalation,” Kennedy said. “And, we have new schools coming on board.”

Durham provided bus services for the school district for more than a decade and has faced criticism from some parents for poor service. Last school year alone, Durham faced a number of problems with late buses, a bus driver shortage, and an inability to share who’s driving their buses.

“We are excited about working in partnership with the Charleston County School District to enhance transportation service for families,” First Group spokesperson Jen Biddinger said. “First Student is committed to using our insights, expertise and resources to deliver the best start and finish to the school day. We understand the critical nature of our work, and we take great pride in what we do. Our team looks forward to becoming a key part of the Charleston community for years to come.”

School district spokesperson Sully Witte said they’re not able to comment because of pending litigation.

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