Schools Transportation Director Retires

Wednesday, August 14, 2013, Vol. 128, No. 158

The director of transportation for the countywide school system, Debbie Rike, resigned Wednesday, Aug. 14, capping a week and a half of significant transportation problems for the new school district.

Interim schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson confirmed Rike’s retirement effective immediately but did not indicate whether she gave a reason in her letter of resignation.

With Rike’s departure, Hopson announced Wednesday afternoon that he has put Hitesh Haria, the school system’s chief of business operations, in charge of the day-to-day operation of transportation services.

Hopson said his goal is to fill the position on a permanent basis “as soon as possible.”

Some bus-route problems were a perennial issue for the opening of any school year under Shelby County’s two legacy school systems.

And Hopson said that was the part of the merger transition that required the most detail work before the school year opened this month. He also conceded that some problems would be inevitable no matter the amount of advanced preparation.

But with the start of the school year on Aug. 5, the problems surfaced quickly and had not subsided in the second week of the school year. Many parents with questions and concerns were unable to reach anyone in schools administration, despite the school system repeatedly urging parents to call a transportation hotline or email their problems. The communications breakdown for those parents created even more frustration that hasn’t subsided.

Rike oversaw a transportation system that was neither the Memphis City Schools' nor the Shelby County Schools' old system for busing students. It was instead a hybrid that used school system-owned buses in part of the countywide school district and contracted private bus services to service the other part of the district. Rike came to the position from the legacy Shelby County Schools system, where she had worked for 33 years.

The hybrid system also operated across a change in school start times – moving from one start time to three to make better use of fewer buses. Along with that came a change in routes.

The countywide school board approved the hybrid bus system with the idea that with its own fleet of buses, the school system would be able to provide bus services to charter schools as well as municipal school districts that are in the process of being formed in Shelby County’s six suburbs. Those suburban school systems are expected to open in the 2014-2015 school year.