School district re-ups with Durham for busing

Apr. 23—OTTUMWA — The Ottumwa Community School District unanimously approved a contract renewal with Durham School Services to continue its transportation operations during Monday's school board meeting at Career Campus.

The district's contract with the firm ends at the end of June, but when the district sent out requests for proposal in February, they were the most attractive of four companies who expressed interest. Durham also was the only one to submit a formal bid.

How the service under the new contract will look is still being discussed, chief operations officer Dave Harper told the board. The school district has discussed reducing its service and not busing every student, as it has for years.

"We know that we have some challenges that we will encounter, but we'll come back in May with a comprehensive plan that will show how we're going to communicate and implement this plan for the 2024-25 school year," Harper said.

"This will include how to address hazard zones. We'll show that we're ready for the school year for our students."

The district formed a transportation committee to evaluate the needs in the new contract, but also focused on reducing ride time and overcrowding for students, wanted more safety and security features, improved atmosphere and buses and more supervision of high-needs bus routes.

In the RFP, it was recommended that cameras would be placed on bus stop arms, video coverage of all seats on the bus, bilingual support staff, and routing and communication software that can tie into the student information that can be accessed by parents.

The district mostly stayed with Durham because of its experience with the company, its history of safety and its fleet and maintenance program.

Durham priced its services to reflect a schedule that features 24 morning/afternoon routes as well as 20 shuttles, with city routes and rural routes costing $356.25 daily, and shuttles costing $48.09. Currently, the school district has 31 routes and 35 shuttles, chief finance officer John Berg said.

"The pricing is really dependent on the number of routes, so that 24 and 20 is still somewhat of an estimate as we won't know the total number of routes until we get kids signed up in the summer," Berg said. "We're looking for some efficiencies with the shuttle route and hoping we can reduce that.

"The one negative is that the shuttles may go up a bit per route, but we would reduce the number of shuttles and that still generates a savings. We really want to finalize what those numbers will be, but we're making educated estimates right now."

Superintendent Mike McGrory said information should be sent out to families before the school year is over.

"I think that's our goal so everybody knows what their busing is," he said. "We know there will be some scenarios where parents aren't coming until July or August, but it's important to get this information out as early as possible so there aren't any surprises."

Board member Brian Jones wondered about the feasibility of signage for bus stops.

"Would that be something to talk about? Because if kids are walking four, five or six blocks, they should know where the bus picks them up. I don't think we've ever had anything like that before," he said. "I don't know if would be something to think about because of all the many different cultures we have here, and being able to understand where the stop is."

McGrory liked the idea.

"I think it makes sense to look at that now because we're looking to move more toward location rather than picking up at homes because it will decrease routing time," he said. "It makes sense to look at it this year."

In other business:

— The school district had to make a $225,000 change order to the competition gym for extra work underground.

"We did everything under the sun, and what they found during construction was the old hospital," Harper said. "They found a septic system, sewer manholes. You name it, it was discovered down there. It's about a 60x80 area, and it needs to come out so that we have a solid foundation for the gymnasium."

McGrory wasn't thrilled about the change order, but acknowledged it had to happen.

"It bothers me a great deal, but I'm accepting of it because there was no way we could know that was an issue," he said. "We haven't had these very often."

— The 2024-25 school year will begin Aug. 23 and end May 28 for students. The teachers' last day will be May 29. Overall, there will be 174 days for students and 1,103 hours.

— The board approved a sound system for the competition gym, as well as a video board. The district budgeted $110,000 for a video board with Mahaska Communications Group contributing $60,000 toward subscription costs, but the low bid was $73,000.

"We're pretty happy this came in under budget," chief information officer Landon Allen said. "It's the same video board and company that Albia, Oskaloosa and EBF went with."

— Chad Drury can be reached at, and on Twitter @ChadDrury