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Schools Chief to Cancel Bus Contract for Handicapped

Times Staff Writer

The county superintendent of schools announced Thursday that he is canceling, at the end of the year, a contract with a bus company that transports 800 handicapped students to their special schools because a 4-week-old bus shortage cannot be resolved.

Supt. Robert Peterson said enough non-contract buses will get the students to their schools through June 30, which is the earliest the agreement can be severed.

A shortage of buses came to light Sept. 12, when about 400 students were left stranded. Since then, the county and individual parents have helped drive children to their 21 county schools.

Thursday was the first day since Sept. 12 that all 81 handicapped-student bus routes were covered for the first time this school year. Peterson said the contractor, Durham Transportation Inc. of Rosemead, provided just 51 of those 81 buses Thursday. The county hired buses and taxis for the other 30 bus routes.

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Larry Durham, owner of the company, said Thursday that a solution could have been found but that Peterson “refused to negotiate.”

Durham added: “We’ve lost money on that contract for three years, and all we were trying to do was to get enough just to break even--not to make a profit but just break even--the final two years.”

Durham and Peterson declined to say how much money was under discussion.

Ronald D. Wenkart, attorney for the county Department of Education, which Peterson heads, said: “They wanted more money, and we were not able to reach agreement. We were pretty far apart on money.”

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Peterson added, “It was more money than we could squeeze out.”

However, both Durham and County Board of Education Trustee Sheila Meyers said Thursday that they doubted that the extra money Durham was seeking would be more than what a new contract will cost the Department of Education.

“If just some of this had been handled better early on, we could be getting out a whole lot cheaper,” Meyers said.

Last month she accused Peterson of not keeping the elected trustees informed of the bus-contract crisis and said the board, which must vote the $50-million budget annually for the county Department of Education, would have been sympathetic to some higher pay for the bus contractor.

Durham had been seeking extra money to help compensate for what he said was a 30% increase in insurance costs since he signed the county contract in 1985. also asked for full cost-of-living annual adjustments, saying the county department had given only partial adjustments in two previous years.

Peterson, however, noted that the state has not given his department any cost-of-living money for transportation for the last three years and that money had to be taken from education programs to help augment the bus contract.

He said no more could be cut from the budget to give Durham what he sought.

The Durham bus contract money varied slightly from year to year but averaged about $2.5 million annually, Peterson said.

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Work will begin immediately on competitive bidding for a new bus contractor, he said. “We want the new company to be able to start service right away on July 1, 1989.”

Peterson hoped that Durham Transportation would continue to provide at least the 51 buses he now has operating on the contract.


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