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Parish school board votes to end bus contract

VIDALIA — In an evenly split decision, the Concordia Parish School Board voted Thursday not to renew its contract with Durham School Services, effectively leaving the district without a plan for bussing students next year.

The school board’s adopted meeting rules dictate that a tied motion fails. The vote was 4-4. Board member Daryl Price was absent.

The motion to renew the contract, first signed in 2005, was made by board member Darlene Baker and seconded by Deanie Roberts. Superintendent Loretta Blankenstein made a recommendation that the board renew the contract.

Some board members have in the past contended that the Durham contract is unfair to the district’s independent contract drivers, who they say are not compensated in a way that is comparable to the Durham bus drivers.

Transportation Supervisor James McGee said contract drivers are compensated at a rate equal to the Durham drivers, but they may have to pay costs the other drivers do not, ultimately hurting their bottom line.

Board Member Fred Butcher said the district has been forced to contract with Durham.

“The last time we advertised the bus routes, we might have had one person to go on and do a route,” he said. “I think we are in a situation where we have to do the bus contracts.”

Board Member Mary Campbell said that was actually a result of the Durham contract.

“They see it advertised, but they aren’t coming by because they aren’t getting what Durham is getting,” Campbell said.

Board member Raymond Riley asked if there was some way to ensure contract drivers were taking home more money, and board member Ricky Raven asked if the Durham contract was the most cost efficient way to go.

When the matter came to a vote, Baker, Butcher, Roberts and President Gary Parnham voted to renew the contract, while Campbell, board member Martha Rabb, Raven and Riley voted against it.

After the vote, Butcher asked the question, “So, where are we now, without bus service?”

The board ultimately decided to revisit the issue at a later date.

McGee said the district has 12 independent contract drivers. Nearly Durham drivers did two-thirds of the district’s bus routes.

“My concern is where I am going to get 22 bus drivers,” he said. “It is going to be a mess.”

In other news, a representative from the group Delta Charter School appeared before the board to ask if the school district was willing to partner with a charter school in the Ferriday area.

The representative, Greg Jackson, said the group was started five years ago, and their goal was to start a vocationally based charter school.

Consultant Linda Bordelon said she has helped develop other charter schools before, and that the educational philosophy was to teach all curriculums through the lens of agriculture math and science technology.

“You are not teaching children to ride tractors,” she said. “You are using agriscience and technology as a delivery system.”

The charter school would allow students to take the tax dollars that were allocated for their education and use them in an alternative system, Jackson said.

Butcher said he saw problems with placing a charter school in Ferriday.

“Whenever you have a dual system, all of the funds, all of the community support, cannot be concentrated across those two systems,” he said.

Jackson said he saw the charter school as an opportunity to level the playing field.

“We have a segregated system in Ferriday at the end of the day, a segregated system in Monterey at end of the day, and the only school that reflects our parish makeup is Vidalia,” he said. “A charter school will allow everyone in the parish who wants to attend the chance to attend. For once, Ferriday will have a desegregated school system.”

The school would have open enrollment, and if more students applied to get in than the school could accommodate, it would use a lottery system to select students, Jackson said.

Jackson said no minorities were represented in the core group looking to start the school, but that will be changed in the future.

“I believe that if we don’t build that team diversely, if we don’t do it the right way, we will get rejected before we get started, or get shut down after we start,” he said.

Raven made a motion for the school board to explore the option of partnering with the group, but no second was made to the motion.

Superintendent Loretta Blankenstein said by law the school district has to get a third party to evaluate the proposed charter school plan, and that the board would revisit the proposal at a later date.

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