Dorchester District 2 has hired the private Durham School Services to operate its school buses next year.

The new contract with Durham will put about 200 employees in the district's transportation department out of work, officials said Thursday. Those employees can reapply for their jobs with Durham. They will be given priority in the hiring process if they meet the company's criteria.

District 2 school board Chairwoman Frances Townsend said the board approved the change because the company could provide more services while maintaining the current $4.5 million transportation budget. The timing was right for the change, she said, because the head of transportation is set to retire.

"One of the first things we thought of, after safety, was our employees," she said. Durham has a track record of rehiring current employees when it takes on a new contract, she said. "We predict that almost all of them will be rehired."

Durham School Services of Warrenville, Ill., also manages bus transportation for the Charleston and Beaufort county schools.

The Berkeley County School District operates its own buses.

District 2 is one of the fastest-growing school districts in the state, with nearly 23,000 students. About 12,000 of them ride a bus each day.

District leaders Thursday said they had been considering hiring a private company to operate their buses for the past two years. They said the move would make the district's transportation system more efficient.

The issue did not come up in recent public meetings on the 2011-2012 district budget. It was raised at public meetings for the 2010-2011 budget, and many drivers and other transportation department employees spoke out against it.

District 2's contract with Durham calls for the company to manage all bus transportation services, including field trips and athletic events. Under the agreement, Durham also will provide video cameras, GPS systems and two-way radios on all buses.

District 2 Chief Financial Officer Allyson Duke said those are important safety features. She also said Durham would provide the district with two new buses, increasing the fleet to 164 buses.