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Unit 5 Renews Contract With Bus Company First Student

First Student bus
Ryan Denham
First Student is Unit 5's student transportation vendor.

The Unit 5 school board on Wednesday voted to renew its contract with First Student for two years, with some board members saying the bus vendor has restored their faith in the company.

Unit 5 nearly cut ties with the company in 2016. Parents raised concerns about frequent late buses, driver shortages and children with special needs let off at wrong stops.

Board member Mike Trask said student safety will always be district's main priority. Trask said he has confidence in First Student moving forward.

"We're talking about getting there on time. That's what we want, but we want them to get there safely," Trask said. "And so, they've worked really hard to beat our timelines. Are we 100 percent perfect on everything? No. Are there incidents that happen? Yes."

Trask said the bus company has accepted more accountability and improved communication and collaboration with the district. Both parties have formed a Monthly Transportation Committee which Superintendent Mark Daniel believes will strengthen ties between them and parents. Daniel said the first meeting will happen sometime in February.

Daniel said Unit 5 has seen a remarkable turnaround by the company.

"The fact that they raised the hourly wage to attract more drivers but also (their) training protocol. Our new manager at First Student, Mark Bohl, did a tremendous job in creating a culture of 'how do we better serve Unit 5.' You know, as a vendor, that's what we expect," Daniel said.

Unit 5's current contract with First Student costs around $7.9 million annually. The contract extension would cost the district an additional $287,000 next year if the number of routes stays the same, said Unit 5 Business Manager Marty Hickman. The contract extension runs through June 2020.

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Baylee Steelman joined us in November 2016. She is a journalism major graduating in May 2018. She mainly covers Bloomington City and Normal Town Council meetings, Unit 5 School Board meetings, produces the weekend News In Review, and helps run GLT events. Baylee also produces and anchors at TV-10, Illinois State University's student TV news station.
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