More money needed to make the wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Knox County, Oak Ridge, and a number of other districts could need a lot more money to keep the buses rolling this coming school year.

The problem begins and ends at the pump, and the solutions could change who's driving the bus, who's riding it, and for how long.

School Bus Driver-Contractor Steve Bean says, "It's like an insurance policy that we've took up last year."

Bus contractors haven't had to carry the full load of fuel prices.

Every month AAA figures the average price for gas and diesel.

Knox County Schools has been giving Drivers a penny per mile for every nickel that price is higher than 3 and a quarter a gallon, but:

Bean says, "Nobody at the beginning of August had any idea what was gonna happen this Spring."

What happened was soaring gas and diesel, but come this August "AAA is projecting 4 dollars a gallon."

To cover that, Knox County Schools Spokesman Russ Oaks says, "We'll need about 540 thousand dollars on top of the transportation budget."

Or, find a way to haul more kids in fewer trips and/or shorter routes

Oaks says, "Maybe you don't need to start all of our schools at the same time every day across the county... It allows you more flexibility with the equipment that you've got any you can be more efficient with what you have."

Bean says, "when you have to bus them from Gibbs to Holston, or you go from South Doyle Middle to South Doyle high school--the logistics---it's just not enough time."

None of this is stopping Oak Ridge Public Schools from thinking about getting out of the bus business and hiring a private contractor to haul kids

Superintendent Tom Bailey says the studying began well before a school bus ran over Ashley Paine, 13, last November as she was biking home near Robertsville Middle School.

Oak Ridge School Superintendent Tom Bailey says, "If you're a larger contractor bidding there's some things they can do different from what we can."

Dr. Bailey says contractors have told them they restore full service, every Oak Ridge child bussed, and shorten the walk to the stop for 99 thousand dollars less what the District's cost to provide reduced service itself.

What do these unnamed would-be providers know that Knox County's don't

Superintendent Bailey says, "If they don't honor that, then it's off the table."

Back in Knox County, Steve Bean says, "I very seriously suspect that there'll be several contractors who won't come back come August."

How many, he can't say, but tonight, oak ridge's school board votes on whether to ask for bids for bus service.

It hopes to know whether it'll farm out to keep providing bus service
by late next month, or early June.

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