Embattled School Bus Agency DCS Gets $8 Million Lifeline

School bus drivers express frustration with Dallas County Schools board, financial situation

Dallas County Schools obtained an $8.75 million short-term loan Tuesday that will help the troubled school bus agency cover its operating expenses through the end of the year.

In May, the Texas Attorney General’s Office told DCS it could not obtain any more long-term financing because of the agency’s precarious financial condition and the looming November election in which Dallas County taxpayers could vote to dissolve DCS.

The new loan or “tax anticipation note” DCS has obtained does not require any attorney general approval because it is only a short-term loan. It will cost taxpayers more than $370,000 in interest payments over the next 11 months.

Meanwhile, DCS school bus drivers and union representatives appeared at a DCS board meeting Tuesday pleading with management to keep driver pay and benefits intact as DCS tries to balance its budget for the coming year.

Drivers did not get all of the answers they were hoping for.

The board voted to suspend a policy that guaranteed a 30 hour work week for drivers. Management has argued that policy resulted in drivers clocking in and being paid for work that was not performed. Union representatives and drivers have denied that.

Proposals to cut holiday pay and other driver benefits are still being studied by DCS management which has pledged to do all it can to preserve driver pay in the wake of the financial crisis that rocked the agency and left DCS on the verge of being unable to pay its bills earlier this year.

One longtime driver, John Lester, spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, telling the board it needs to do more to support drivers battling low morale in light of the problems at DCS.

“Without the drivers the ship sinks,” Lester said.

Despite their concerns, many drivers have still pledged to help DCS attempt to win the Nov. 7 vote, in which Dallas County taxpayers will decide the agency’s fate.

Union representatives present at Tuesday’s meeting said they would assist with organizing drivers to win community support for DCS.

However some drivers said the board needs to do more to convince them and taxpayers that DCS is serious about making changes for a better future.

One driver who said she has worked for DCS for more than 30 years told NBC 5 she believes DCS board member Larry Duncan needs to resign if the agency is going to show voters it has really changed.

“It doesn’t look good for the taxpayers for him to be still on the board, and we are voting in November to save Dallas County. We have to clean house,” said DCS driver Flo Norman.

Duncan relinquished his role as board president in May but has remained on the board. He stepped aside as president days after NBC 5 Investigates reported on a questionable DCS land deal and more than $245,000 in campaign contributions Duncan received from people involved in the land deal and people with connections to a vendor involved in a program that put DCS in financial jeopardy. Duncan said Tuesday he had not heard from drivers suggesting he resign and that he was focused on moving forward.

“"We have all learned some things lately that surprised us that shouldn't have taken place. We have got a good mix on the board of experience. We've got people to bring a fresh look and someone with some experience. And we are looking forward to moving ahead into the school year,” Duncan told NBC 5 in a brief interview in the hallway outside of the DCS meeting.

Duncan declined to elaborate on what should not have taken place. He walked back into a closed session portion of the board meeting without answering additional questions.

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