RALEIGH — The largest provider of transportation to Wake County's special-education students is backing away from a threat to shut down this week over a money dispute with school administrators.
Zell Lucas, president of Lucas Transportation, said Monday that the company plans to continue operating through the end of this school year while talks are under way for a new contract. Lucas had threatened last month to shut down service this week to 774 students, saying the current contract was putting him on the verge of financial collapse.
Lucas said the change of heart came after a meeting last week with school officials following news reports of the threatened shutdown. Lucas said the other companies at the meeting also indicated they plan to serve out the rest of the school year.
"We're going to continue ensuring that kids will get to school and hope that Wake County will do the right thing," Lucas said.
Michael Evans, a Wake schools' spokesman, said Monday that the district is pleased that the companies have agreed to honor their contracts.
The school system pays $12 million a year to transport more than 2,500 students who can't ride regular school buses for various reasons such as being in wheelchairs or being banned from regular buses for behavioral reasons. These students ride to school in a variety of vehicles, including cars, sport utility vehicles and mini-buses.
In 2008, Wake signed a four-year transportation contract with 11 private companies.
In June, Wake negotiated a one-year contract that Lucas and other vendors complain provides significantly less money. The vendors say they reluctantly signed the new deal because they had too much money tied up in new vehicles purchased to handle the original contract.
School officials have cited the district's budgetdifficulties as prompting the need to control expenses. Amid the tension and threats, school officials and the private vendors aired their concerns at a meeting last week.
"It was an opportunity for everybody to sit down and for them to fully understand our budget constraints and for us to hear the issues they have," Evans said.
Lucas said the companies are not expecting to get back the 2008 deal. But he said the current deal has to change.
"We're going on in good faith believing they'll do the right thing," Lucas said.
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