The Hamilton County Board of Education tweaked its superintendent job description and dove back into the topic of busing during a work session Monday night.
The job description should be finalized in the coming days and sent to a list of potential candidates, said Kenneth Carrick Jr., president and managing director of Coleman Lew and Associates, the firm helping with the search.
Carrick thanked a couple of members of the board for already sending him names of candidates, and he said the posting on Coleman's website has drawn a few inquiries from people interested in the job.
At the end of the conversation, Carrick complimented the board on being efficient.
It's not uncommon for the board to meet for several hours, and school board member Joe Wingate said he wanted to make sure everyone heard Carrick's comment.
"I want it duly noted that he used the words "efficient" and "this board" twice tonight," Wingate said, drawing laughs from fellow board members.
Hamilton County Schools has been without a permanent superintendent since March, when Rick Smith stepped down. The board is optimistic that it will select a superintendent before the start of the next school year.
Also during the meeting, Hamilton County Schools transportation supervisor Ben Coulter updated the board on the price tag associated with increasing pay and expanding benefits for the system's independent drivers.
Hamilton County Schools is the only district in the state that provides health insurance to its independent drivers, and it offers the highest overall compensation of any district, Coulter said.
Looking ahead, Coulter estimates it could cost the district about $393 for each route covered by an independent bus driver per day, compared with about $305 for each route covered by Durham School Services, the company that now holds the system bus contract. These costs change with the cost of fuel, Coulter noted.
School board member Joe Smith asked if district leaders had talked with the independent drivers, who met last week. Smith said he thought the number the drivers decided upon was less than what the district was calculating.
Coulter and Lee McDade, assistant superintendent of student services, said they had not yet talked to the drivers but that they would soon and then report back.
Earlier this month the board approved a request for proposals, hoping companies will submit bids to cover the routes not covered by the independent drivers. Following the fatal Nov. 21 bus crash, Durham agreed to extend its contract with the district for a year, which is still an option the board may consider once it receives the new bids.
The board also previously decided to give the independent drivers 20 additional routes, allowing them to cover up to 69 of the district's more than 240 daily routes. This decision could cost about $1.5 million, Coulter said.
That cost does not account for the safety upgrades that may be needed, as the buses owned and driven by the independent drivers do not have the GPS tracking system, new cameras or updated radios like those buses used by Durham's drivers.
Thirty people have already submitted applications wanting to take over the independent bus routes, and the board will have to decide if it wants to give priority in claiming those routes to existing or new drivers, Coulter said.
School board member David Testerman advised the board not to rush into a decision.
"Let's let this thing a cook a little bit and see what numbers surface," he said. "We've got to make a good, honest decision about these new buses. We just need to take our time and do it right."
School board member Tiffanie Robinson asked that if the district pays independent drivers more it also consider raises for teachers.
"It's healthy that we are going to go through this process," she said. "We need to also go through a teacher pay process."
Interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly responded that the goal is to "give teachers everything we can."
Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at email@example.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @kendi_and.