Beaufort County School District buses will provide 4 million rides to and from school throughout the 180-day school year, according to Kerry Mayo, the district’s new director of transportation.
“We’ll pick up about 12,000 kids in the morning and the same 12,000 in the afternoon. That’s about 24,000 a day and over a year of 180 days, that’s more than 4 million [rides] each year,” Mayo said. “That’s a big undertaking – and that doesn’t count the field trips or other activities that occur up to seven days a week.”
BCSD did not renew the contract with Durham School Services due to cost, said Jim Foster, district director of communications.
“Last year we were going to have to add $870,000 for May River High School, and the contract would have been for $5.6 million. Durham wanted an additional increase of $900,000,” Foster said.
“We are confident we can provide the same level of service for less than the $6.5 million that it would have cost us if we had stayed with Durham School Services,” Foster said. “We’ll know by the end of the school year.”
The district will now lease and maintain 40 new school buses to add to the 149 buses provided by South Carolina Department of Education.
The new vehicles will replace the ones previously provided by Durham, Foster said.
The total includes 15 spare buses in the event any of the scheduled buses are inoperable.
“Most buses will hold 72 elementary students or 40 to 50 middle and high school kids,” said Mayo.
There will also be new bus routes and – more importantly – new bus departure times. Because there are different start times for elementary, middle and high school, the district runs a double bus route – meaning the buses run their routes twice in the morning and in the afternoon.
Elementary schools begin at 7:45 a.m., and buses will need to deliver students between 7:15 and 7:25 a.m., said Mayo. Middle and high school start time is 8:45 a.m., and those students will be on the second route.
Mayor added that there were 149 bus routes last year and it is unknown how many will be required for the 2016-17 school year.
“We’re still in the middle of routing, with new kids coming into the district, so we’re not sure how many there will be yet, but we will know by the end of July,” he said. “That information will be published on all of the school websites, and we’ll be contacting parents and letting them know about the routes by the end of July, early August.”
The school district hired most of the bus drivers employed by Durham, said Mayo. Orientation is under way for trained drivers and a startup gathering will take place before school starts to go over safety and operational concerns.
New drivers must complete initial 20 hours of training in a commercial drivers’ license (CDL) class followed by testing by a state instructor. Mayo said that those who pass then spend 20 to 30 hours behind the wheel on practice runs.
Once they complete that training, they will be examined by a third-party tester for driving skills and, if successful, then will become school bus drivers. Those interested in attending the next training class can apply online at www.applitrack.com/beaufort/onlineapp.
“They have to know some pretty detailed information once they have their CDL permit,” said Mayo. “Then we have safety meetings and ongoing certifications to make sure drivers are evaluated once a year.”
Mayo previously managed the BCSD bus operations as an employee of First Student, a private company contracted to run the buses from 2004 to 2010. The district hired him after the board of education ended its relationship this year with Durham.
According to the district’s press release at the time of Mayo’s most recent hiring, he left Beaufort to become First Student’s contract manager in Savannah and was later named the company’s Atlantic Southeast Regional Manager. Mayo worked as the regional safety specialist for FedEx in North Carolina before getting into school bus operations and managed UPS operations for 14 years in Beaufort County.
“I enjoy this business and the challenges, and am excited to get back and continue to do the things I have been doing,” Mayo said. “There’s a lot of job satisfaction in making sure kids get home safely each and every day.”
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.