Durham draws more controversy

Published 6:00 am Friday, January 12, 2007

The holidays and the new year did nothing to quell the ongoing school bus debate in Concordia Parish.

But a new board took the first step toward putting their collective foot down on the matter Thursday night.

But the foot hasn’t hit the pavement yet.

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Clarence Skipper, a bus driver and president of the driver’s association, approached the board to propose three changes to the current situation.

Many bus drivers have been unhappy with the district since the board signed a four-year contract with the privately-run Durham School Services in the summer.

Local drivers have argued the district is spending too much on the contract after being unwilling to give drivers needed raises for years.

Skipper’s requests included the reimbursement of expense fees they were not paid in June and July, payment for any extra safety courses that may be required and a level playing field between what Durham receives per bus and what non-Durham drivers receive.

But before the board members could respond directly to any of the proposals, new board member Fred Butcher requested a complete look at the situation.

Butcher, who was at his first board meeting as a member, retired from the school district in late summer.

“I know that we’ve got a contract that relates to Durham,” he said. “But all the back and forth about bus drivers spills into the learning and academics.”

“I think we made some mistakes, and I would like to see the president of this board appoint a committee. We need to address this once and for all.”

Newly-elected president Gary Parnham agreed, and asked that the formation of the committee go on the February board meeting agenda.

The board agreed that several school board members, two bus drivers and the superintendent should be on the committee.

“In order to have a good (school) system, everybody has to be happy,” Butcher said.

“We made a mistake and these drivers have not been compensated.

“It doesn’t make sense to come back every month and argue time and time again. When Durham came here they sold us a cupcake and we thought it was an apple pie and we bought it.”

Board member Ricky Raven agreed, saying the board should take their time on the matter and find the right answer.

“I know the general consensus of the board wants to get this worked out,” he said.