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Sullivan County bus service future unclear

By Lyndsey Price, lprice@wcyb.com
Published On: Feb 04 2014 05:05:24 PM CST
sullivan county buses
SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. -

As the school year draws closer to an end, so does a bus contract for Sullivan County Schools.

The school district tells us a bus company that is contracted for 40 routes will no longer continue their services after this school year.

School buses are an important part of everyday life for a school system. Now, Sullivan County is left with some uncertainty about 40 of their bus routes for next school year. "What a huge pair of shoes is left for us to fill," says Sullivan County Assistant Director of Schools Gene Johnson.

This comes after Holston Bus Company owner Kenny Morrell tells us he is ready to retire and hang up the keys. "Last year I was in five states trying to buy 12 used buses, and I found six. At my age, I'm just not willing to do that," he said.

Morrell has served the county for more than five decades. "I've operated the buses now for 57 years, and I've estimated that we've hauled 92,340,000 kids. We've never had an injury on a school bus," he said.

Johnson tells us the rest of the county routes are contracted out to different companies. "Each route costs about $38,000 per year," he explained.

Johnson says the loss of the Holston Bus Company has them looking at all their options, including soliciting bids from current local contractors or state contractors.

The other option is the county owning and maintaining their own buses. "It would require, in probability, a bond issue. It would require us to acquire a bus garage. We would have to go into the business, not just go into bus ownership," adds Johnson.

Meanwhile, Kenny Morrell tells us he hopes his drivers won't be left without a job. "I'm hoping they will go with whoever takes over these 40 routes, and they want to do that. I've talked to most of them and they're okay with that," he said.

Morrell tells us Holston Bus Company will continue serving Bristol, Tennessee Schools under a contract through the summer of 2018.

Gene Johnson with Sullivan County Schools says the next step is to move quickly, but find the most efficient option for the county.