Frustration felt as Unit 5 tries to fix First Student bus troubles

 

DANIEL AND HITCHINS
Unit 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel and School Board President Barry Hitchins at Wednesday night’s school board meeting, held at Parkside Junior High School. (Photo by Howard Packowitz/WJBC)

 

By Howard Packowitz

NORMAL – The head of the Unit 5 teachers union told school board members Wednesday night that students are losing out by continued transportation foul-ups.

Unit 5 Education Association President Lindsey Dickinson says some kids are losing 30 to 45 minutes a day because First Student buses are late.

“When educators call transportation multiple times to find out where a bus or a student is, and no one answers the phone, returns a message, or communicates, we take issue with that, and our students aren’t served,” Dickinson said.

Unit 5 parent Tony Cole also wants a solution sooner rather than later. He told the board his two kids are missing out on their education, and late buses interfere with everyone’s schedule.

Board member Amy Roser said perhaps parents might be a little more patient if First Student returned phone calls.

“Perhaps more forgiveness would be granted when a bus is switched, or something of that nature. So, if we can work with our First Student partners to be more responsive in that area, I think that we can maybe get a little bit more grace from our public,” Roser said.

“We need them to live up to the promises of getting kids to school and home on time, and to answer their phones, and responding to people who’ve asked them questions,” said Board member Meta Mickens-Baker.

“I don’t understand why we’re still having this conversation so far into the school year,” Mickens-Baker also said.

Board member Mike Trask said the situation reminds him of First Student’s troubles at the start of school three years ago.

“It feels like we take a step forward and two steps back,” said Trask.

“Last couple of years, I thought we’ve been good, but when I’m starting to get questions at work, I get hit with somebody at the gas station pumping gas the other day, I know it’s getting really bad,” Trask also said.

Superintendent Mark Daniel said he and Board President Barry Hitchins have asked to meet with a top bus company executive.

“The service we are receiving is not acceptable,” said Daniel.

“We understand that most routes are running on time, but most is not enough,” Daniel added.

This is the final year of First Student’s contract with Unit 5. Daniel said the board will decide soon whether to seek bids from other bus companies for the next school year.

Howard Packowitz can be reached at howard.packowitz@cumulus.com

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