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Latricia Lloyd, a driver for Durham, waits in bus number 388 to pick up students at the end of the day at the Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

This story was updated Wednesday, April 10, 2019, at 5:57 p.m. with more information.

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Durham bus company to close Chattanooga offices

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Durham School Services, which has provided bus service to Hamilton County schools since 2013, is closing its local offices and laying off 314 workers in June, according to an Employee Dislocation notice filed with the state of Tennessee.

But Durham's replacement, First Student, said Wednesday it hopes to hire the displaced drivers with higher wages to provide bus service in Hamilton County once it finalizes its contract with the school system.

"Our goal would be to hire all current drivers who pass our employment checks," said Jen Biddinger, corporate communications manager for the Cincinnati-based First Student. "They are a tremendous asset. They know the students, the routes and the community."

Biddinger said First Student is still finalizing the details of its contract with Hamilton County Schools, but she said First Student's proposal "does call for wage increases."

The Hamilton County Board of Education last month decided to contract with First Student to replace Durham in the next year even though First Student's $11.1 million proposal was nearly $1 million more than Durham's bid.

Ken Bradshaw, chief operations officer for Hamilton County schools, said Durham drivers were represented by the Teamsters union and the new contract and any changes in the labor agreement for the drivers are still being negotiated.

"We're in the process of finalizing the contract, but as soon as we have our first meeting we should have that hammered out and we expect that very shortly," Bradshaw said.

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As rain begins late Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, two youth cross Gann Road in Middle Valley as they exit their school bus.

Hamilton County schools has contracted with Durham for 164 bus routes and has another 74 routes that are run by independent bus operators, Bradshaw said.

Durham alerted the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce last week of its layoff plans for 314 workers and said it plans to close its offices Dodds Avenue, Hickory Valley Road and Middle Valley Road.

The school board voted 7-1 last month to end its contract with Durham after this school year and go with a new provider. The change came after repeated requests from parents and community leaders to severe ties with Durham after a 2016 bus crash in Brainerd killed six Woodmore Elementary School students and injured dozens more.

Durham driver Johnthony K. Walker was ultimately convicted of criminally negligent homicide in the crash.

Biddinger said First Student "is committed to delivering a high level of safety and service, and we look forward to working with the district, students and parents in Chattanooga for many years to come."

Woodmore Elementary school bus crash

 

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