Should Tipton County Schools outsource its student transportation?
That was the focus of a recent study conducted by the board at the request of county commissioner Richard Kelley during a discussion about the increased cost of new buses.
While the school board was not necessarily interested in outsourcing one of the functions of the school system, they greenlit the study.
“… I think we should continue what we’re doing now,” said board chairman Marty Burlison. “I have no good feeling about outsourcing our buses.”
Unlike neighboring Arlington, Bartlett, Lakeland, Collierville, Germantown, Millington and Hardin County who all use Durham Services, Tipton County Schools owns its own buses and employs its own drivers and support staff.
The municipal school systems in the Memphis area began using Durham after the split from Shelby County Schools.
“Keep in mind they left SCS, they de-mergered and they left from Shelby County with zero bus inventory,” Combs said. “They got to keep the buildings they were using, but not the buses … there was not much of a choice if they wanted to get their kids to school, unfortunately.”
Comparatively, Tipton County has $12.5 million in bus inventory, which it’s been building for more than three decades.
Outsourcing transportation would mean the new company absorbing each of the buses currently owned by the district.
Tipton also has a significant number of routes.
Hardin County currently runs 35 routes with a total transportation cost of $1.9 million, or $55,057 per route. Altogether, the municipal schools have 160 routes which totals $7.7 million, or $48,670 per route.
Tipton County has 124 routes and the total cost is $6.1million, or $49,211 per route.
Additionally, Combs shared Shelby County is renegotiating its contract with Durham for tje next three years which comes with a 4 percent minimum increase. The cost doesn’t include field trips, sporting events, or other extra services.
Tipton County doesn’t have to pay much for those extras because its buses are in-house.
“Let’s just say if we had some sort of catastrophic event, Lord forbid, anything from an active shooter to a weather situation, a fire, and we needed buses to evacuate kids like now, we have them,” Combs said, “where they have to call and say, ‘Can you get somebody over here and get them …’ It’s nice to have that. It’s kinda a double-edged sword … we keep up with them, but they’re there when we need them.”
Concern for employees
The bigger concern is the people who would be hurt by outsourcing, said Combs and several board members.
Tipton County Schools employs 125 drivers and provides insurance for approximately 71 of them, said Combs. That is the main reason he is against outsourcing the service.
“Frankly that’s the reason a number of them drive in the first place, so I’m not overly enthusiastic about telling them they may have to look for compensation or insurance elsewhere.”
In addition to the drivers there are also support staff who keep the buses running.
“We’ve had people work in that bus shop for years and they would no longer be there,” Burlison said.
“Outsourcing could mean that none of those people work there …” Ben Kirk added.
Board member Alvis Ferrell said he appreciated the information because “it kinda lets us know that we’re in line doing just as good as anybody else.”
“As we talked about earlier, community is important for our schools and we’d like to keep that there,” said Combs. “I’m willing to put out bids for outsourcing if that’s the will of the board, but I don’t recommend that course of action. But that’s just me. It’s your decision to make, especially with the numbers as close as they are.
The board voted not to pursue the option any further. The people were the biggest factor in its decision.
“They’ve done a lot of great work with what they’ve had,” said Burlison. “I’m tee-total against this.”