ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – The district feared it was coming. Its biggest bus contractor is putting on the brakes for good as of this summer. Albuquerque Public Schools is now scrambling to come up with a plan and the clock is ticking.
“We’re not worried, per se, but were certainly very attentive to the matter.”
Albuquerque Public Schools largest bus contractor is making its final stop this summer. June 30th, to be exact.
“We still have a challenge,” Chief Operations Officer Ruben Hendrickson said. “We still have to get ready by June.”
Hendrickson said APS had been bracing for Durham School Services to back out since November. The official word came just a week ago.
“The profitability wasn’t there,” Hendrickson said. “They weren’t making the kind of money they expected to make. In fact, they were losing money.”
He said they also wanted to pay their drivers more but APS just didn’t have the cash for that.
“We have one rate that applies to all contractors. It would become a $4.5 million issue across the entire district and we just didn’t have that kind of money available.”
It means APS will have to get into the school bus business and provide service for roughly 12,000 on more than 120 routes.
“To our knowledge, we have never been in the business ourselves,” Hendrickson said.
This comes as the district faces a $24 million deficit of its own.
“What we’re looking for really is a seamless transition.”
Hendrickson said they are looking at spending about $700,000 to buy Durham’s bus fleet, about 90, and bring on some of their drivers as well as leasing their lot.
In a year where there has been story after story of late and overcrowded school buses, he’s reassuring parents, and students, not to worry.
“They shouldn’t see any sort of an impact to them if were successful in this transition which we anticipate we will be,” he added.
The bumpy road has some already feeling uneasy.
“We really need it,” George Martinez said. “We really need it.”
Martinez said his son, who goes to Comanche Elementary, relies on the bus to get home.
“If we don’t have the time go get him, somebody has to do it, you know.”
It’s bound to be a learning experience for everyone.
Most of the students who will be affected are in the cities northeast and southeast areas.
A spokeswoman with Durham School Services, which is based in Illinois, said driver shortages have led to increased wages and that APS declined to pitch in money from its general fund to help bump salaries. She said they employ 165 drivers in Albuquerque, along with 40 monitors, 7 mechanics and 7 other employees.
Hendrickson said they have talked to Rio Rancho Public Schools about how it manages its own buses and routes. He said they will also talk to Santa Fe Public Schools to get some ideas.
APS has 16 smaller bus contractors. Hendrickson said some of them have also made it known they are losing money but none of them have said they are pulling out of the district.