New company holds to tough hiring standards

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 21, 2002

NATCHEZ &045; Jeremy Jackson has transported children to and from school for nine years without incident or complaint.

But when school starts up again in January, Jackson won’t be driving a bus.

On Jan. 31, Austin, Texas-based Durham School Services will take the wheel of the Natchez-Adams School District’s transportation department.

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During negotiations with the company, the school district insisted that Durham retain as many existing drivers as possible. And while accepting applications, Durham gave district employees special consideration.

The drivers seemed to be enthusiastic about the change. Durham promised safer buses, a functioning radio system and a pay increase. At an informational meeting held on Nov. 11, it was hard to find much hint of concern.

But Durham, which operates 10,700 buses for 310 school districts in 20 states, is strict master.

Even the most-experienced driver of the lot was required to pass a physical and screening exam, complete Durham’s own two-week training program and meet tough driving record standards.

The last one is what took Jackson out of the driver’s seat. Although he had no serious moving violations on his record, Jackson did get a ticket in his own vehicle two years ago for driving 20 miles per hour over the speed limit. Durham allows nothing over 15 in excess of the limit for 3-year period.

Jackson said he knew he would have to meet certain requirements, but was shocked when he was told earlier this week that he wouldn’t be hired. He said he was never informed of the speeding ticket regulation.

&uot;Nobody said anything,&uot; he said. &uot;They led me to believe that I had a job.&uot;

Jackson is not alone. Freddie Lewis, who has been driving for four years, said Durham passed on him after making it seem as though he would keep his job.

&uot;They said, ‘Your job is all set,’&uot; Lewis said. &uot;They assured us that they were going to take care of us.&uot;

Out of approximately 50 district drivers, nine were not hired on by Durham.

D.D. Haines, who has been in Natchez the past several weeks to handle the transition, said the company’s policies were never played down.

&uot;It was no secret to anyone,&uot; she said.

As for rules that might seem overly strict, Haines was unapologetic.

&uot;We don’t want our children exposed to anything that might be unsafe,&uot; she said.

And that means no exceptions. &uot;Rules are rules,&uot; Haines said. &uot;We are consistent. We must be consistent with our policy, not just in Natchez, but all over the United States and Canada.&uot;

Interim school superintendent Mary Kay Garvin said she sympathized with the out-of-work drivers but understood Durham’s policy. &uot;Durham is a private company, and they have very high standards.&uot;