School officials in Murray County, Ga., may privatize the employment of most of the system's school bus drivers to save money.
"This is new territory for us," said Danny Dunn, director of personnel for the Murray County Board of Education.
The school district has set April 8 as the deadline for private companies to bid to handle employment for the bulk of its 70 part-time drivers.
The contract wouldn't affect 15 bus drivers with 10 or more years' experience, Dunn said, because "they are vested in the retirement system."
And the district still would own its own bus fleet, retain mechanics and buy fuel, he said.
The privatization won't happen, Dunn said, unless it makes financial sense.
Three potential contractors met with school officials March 11 for a prebid conference, he said.
Newly elected school board member Frank L. Adams said, "From a standpoint of costs, it has to be looked at."
A rumor among bus drivers was they'd all be fired, Adams said, but "that's not even remotely the case."
Even if a contractor takes over, he said, current bus drivers will keep their jobs for a least a year.
"These guys drive the route," Adams said. "Why would you get rid of them arbitrarily?"
School Superintendent Vickie Reed is meeting individually with school bus drivers who are concerned about the potential privatization, Dunn said.
The school district's annual budget has shrunk over the past six years from about $60 million to $44 million, Dunn said.
"Every school system in Georgia is hurting for money," he said.
As janitorial staff has retired, Murray County has phased in Southern Management Services to clean schools. It's the same janitorial business used by Whitfield County Schools, he said.
"We've been turning over one school at a time," Dunn said.
Despite budget cuts, Dunn said Murray County Schools' instructional quality and students' test scores haven't suffered.
"We're working harder and smarter," he said.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.