Hamilton County Schools is set to release a new transportation contract for bids on Dec. 7 with the help of education consulting firm Lean Frog.
The district has been working with Lean Frog president and co-founder Bryan Headrick as it has put together a new request for proposal for the past several months for its $14 million to $16 million budget item: moving students to and from school on buses.
"Normally, we don't bring RFPs in and go into this much detail, but we're here at the request of the board," said Superintendent Bryan Johnson at a board work session Tuesday night.
Transportation has always been a hot-button topic in Hamilton County, even before the crash that killed six Woodmore Elementary students two years ago and the resulting turmoil with the county's current vendor, Durham School Services.
Woodmore Elementary school bus crash
- Community holds vigil to honor victims of fatal Woodmore school bus crash [photos]
- One year later: Have school buses gotten safer since the Woodmore crash?
- The legislation: Advocates hope to pass school bus seat belt bill in 2018
- The neighbors: Talley Road residents recount details of deadly crash
- Cooper: Woodmore bus crash offered lessons, realities
- A year of grief: Mother recalls tragic day she lost her daughter
- The first responders: Paramedics, police officers recall scene of crash [photos]
- Lawsuit: Woodmore employees say bus company responsible for emotional trauma
- Two more lawsuits point to negligence in deadly Woodmore bus crash
- Three more civil claims filed in Woodmore crash case
- Bus coalition says Durham drivers want to share safety concerns
- American Red Cross of Southeast Tennessee honors local heroes
- Hamilton County 911 receives award for response to Woodmore crash
- School bus driver in deadly Woodmore crash released from jail after making bond
- Trial date set for driver in fatal Woodmore Elementary School bus crash
- Lawsuit: Mother of child who died in Woodmore bus crash was tricked into legal agreement
- Bus driver in deadly Woodmore crash placed on supervised release
- State attorneys receive new information in Woodmore solicitation case
- Chattanooga firefighters recognized with 'Governor's Certificate' for Woodmore response
- Judge denies alternative sentence request for bus driver in deadly Woodmore crash
- Attorney: Second vehicle involved in deadly Woodmore bus crash
- Court date delayed for bus driver charged in Woodmore case
- Victim's mom posts court documents on Facebook, complicating trial in deadly Woodmore bus crash
- Woodmore bus driver faces additional charges after prosecutors pledge to bring more counts
- Prosecutors plan to bring more charges against Woodmore bus driver
- Attorney says Woodmore bus driver should get alternative sentence
- Texas firm denies any solicitation of Woodmore victims
- Woodmore families protest after school board renews bus company contract [photos]
- Out-of-town jurors will decide Johnthony Walker's fate in Woodmore bus crash trial
- Tennessee AG files lawsuit against Texas firm accused of deceiving Woodmore families
- Child Services confirms agency has been investigating Woodmore bus driver
- Woodmore: Johnthony Walker's attorney wants out-of-town jury
- Judge rules Woodmore attorneys can ask for pre-accident info from bus company
- Twelfth civil lawsuit filed in Woodmore bus crash
- New Woodmore lawsuit takes aim at predatory law firms
- New lawsuit accuses law firms of preying on Woodmore victims
- Two more lawsuits filed in connection to fatal Woodmore bus crash
- Law enforcement to follow, randomly ride in Hamilton County school buses in wake of fatal crash
- NTSB report recounts events leading up to fatal Woodmore school bus crash
- Woodmore Fund completes distribution of more than $500,000 in gifts from community to families
- Woodmore responders recount crash nightmare
- Woodmore bus crash: Can county turn back clock on bus privatization?
- Despite Woodmore crash, Hamilton County likely will extend contract with same bus company
- Tennessee's attorney general vows to take on any law firms that exploit the Woodmore crash victims
- Driver in fatal Woodmore school bus crash had previous accidents, infractions in personnel file
- Lawsuit filed against Hamilton County Schools in connection with fatal Woodmore bus crash
- Industry experts warn of predatory law firms in wake of Woodmore bus tragedy
- Woodmore Fund releases video appeal for relief funds ahead of holidays
- Last 2 Woodmore patients released from Erlanger to rehab facility [video]
- Sixth Woodmore bus crash lawsuit targets bus manufacturer]
- Two Woodmore bus crash victims still in Erlanger Children's Hospital
- Woodmore Fund begins to help families affected by fatal bus crash in Chattanooga
- Fourth and fifth lawsuits filed in Woodmore bus crash
- Remaining hospitalized children in Woodmore bus accident in fair condition
- Third lawsuit says bus crash causes child to suffer disfigurement, brain injury
- Durham claims it wasn't aware of all complaints against driver in deadly bus crash [photos]
- Chattanooga school bus driver refuses to speak with investigators in fatal crash probe
- School bus company addresses driver complaints prior to fatal bus crash, promises change [video]
- Second family files negligence lawsuit in connection with deadly bus crash
- Hearing for bus driver in Woodmore crash delayed
- School bus strikes pedestrian in Brainerd one week after deadly Woodmore crash
- Three Woodmore students still in critical condition; 5 total remain hospitalized
- No kids were on school bus that hit pedestrian on Brainerd Road
- Man allegedly using Woodmore victims to scam people for money
- Zyaira Mateen, 6: The girl who loved to read and dance
- D'myunn Brown: Six-year-old remembered as smart, funny
- Zyanna Harris, 10: Girl had energy and spunk
- Cor'Dayja Jones, 9: Fourth-grader was sweet and shy
- Keonte Wilson, 8: Rambunctious boy was youngest of four
- Zoie Nash, 9: She was cheerful and laid-back
- In the wake of the fatal bus crash, Chattanooga stands strong
- Cook: The Hallelujahs of Woodmore Strong
- Tennessee law caps damages for Woodmore victims, families
- Bus driver in fatal crash told school employee 'he did not care about the students,' school records show
- Family of bus crash survivor finds much to be grateful for
- Community gives $112,000 to families of children killed in bus crash
- Parents say they warned district employees before crash that bus driver drove too fast and was reckless
- Life-saving stability control mandatory in new cars but not required for school buses [video]
- A sixth child in Woodmore bus crash has died
- NTSB says Talley Road not on designated route for bus in fatal crash
- First lawsuit filed in connection with Monday's fatal bus crash
- Local agencies launch fund for families of school bus crash victims
- Brainerd crash: New details emerge on history of driver, bus company
- Families mourn Woodmore Elementary students killed in school bus crash
- Tragedy leaves many area first responders emotionally scarred
- Local lawmakers favor push for mandatory seat belts on school buses
- Community gathers at prayer vigil for victims of fatal school bus accident
- Neighbors recount moments following Monday's fatal crash, say driver had reputation for speeding
- Johnthony Walker crashed bus months before fatal accident
- A nation reacts to Monday's school bus crash tragedy
- McCormick to push bill requiring all Tennessee school buses have seat belts
- Haslam says 'time to have that conversation' about school bus safety
- Neighbors of the bus driver charged with vehicular homicide said he was 'just an ordinary guy'
- School bus service provider had 346 crashes in last two years, records show'
- Families identify all five children killed in bus crash
- Community rallies to support Woodmore families
- Blood Assurance needs O-negative blood donations
- School bus driver in fatal accident graduated from Brainerd
- 6 students in ICU after school bus driver charged in crash that killed Woodmore Elementary students
- Erlanger doctors say kids dazed, couldn't spell names on arrival
- Officials report multiple fatalities in school bus crash on Talley Road
The board has debated transportation policies and expectations from vendors in recent months and board members pushed for a work session to review them after its annual retreat earlier this month.
"Transportation is a huge piece of the budget," said District 4 board member Tiffanie Robinson, "but it is 100 percent the most important piece to keeping our students safe outside of school safety."
The district contracted Headrick to review the previous request for proposals it used two years ago when it renewed its contract with Durham for 165 bus routes.
Headrick said the changes his team made while working with the district's Chief Operations Officer Ken Bradshaw and Transportation Director David Eaves seek to increase competitiveness of applicants, open the potential to a variety of vendors and provide flexibility for both the vendor and the district.
He also noted that in conversation with board members, bus drivers, administrators and families, the district had expectations that were not outlined in the request for proposals and that have also stirred controversy and caused problems throughout its relationship with Durham.
"We have some performance expectations, communication expectations and operations expectations that we need to write down in the [request for proposals]," Headrick said.
The new request for proposals allows for the district to change the number of routes and asks for a price per day per bus for three years plus an additional add-on year from the vendor. Currently, the district has 165 routes operated by Durham and its drivers and 74 routes operated by independent bus contractors.
"The intent of this is we want to start the relationships with the vendor from the start with clear, set expectations on what's near and dear to our heart and what makes Hamilton County happy," Headrick said.
Board members also reviewed transportation policies, such as the use of independent bus contractors, which both Robinson and board member Karitsa Mosley Jones, of District 5, have noted are historically safer drivers but are able to choose their routes.
Policies reviewed included student discipline on buses, who is allowed to transport students and how students can be transported after hours to extracurricular activities or games, such as through individual activity buses.
One of the biggest potential policy changes - what students the district transports and where it transports them - was tabled for further discussion.
The board has long argued about transporting students to schools that are not within their zones, such as to magnet schools, and the discussion has grown with the launch of Future Ready Institutes, which currently do not provide transportation.
Currently the policy only promises transportation for students to their zoned schools, but practice doesn't match policy. Johnson recommended the board review that in hopes of better aligning the policy with the district's goals.
"We are almost, we are about halfway there to being a choice district" in regards to open enrollment," Johnson said.
Bradshaw hopes that a recommendation for a new vendor would be ready to be presented to the board at the January board meeting, but said that timeline is "a bit ambitious." February would be the latest the district hopes to approve a contract.
So far, the district has paid about $5,000 to Lean Frog for Headrick's consulting services, with the potential of paying up to $10,000, depending on scope of work, according to Bradshaw.
Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.