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Unit 5 May Seek Other Busing Options After First Student Problems

First Student bus
Ryan Denham
First Student’s current contract with Unit 5 expires in June 2020.";

Unit 5’s school board president said Wednesday the district should consider exploring other transportation options starting next year amid concerns about its current busing company, First Student.

First Student’s current contract with Unit 5 expires in June 2020 regardless. It’s been a rocky relationship. Unit 5 nearly cut ties with the company in 2016 over concerns about frequent late buses, driver shortages, and children with special needs let off at wrong stops. But First Student made improvements and won the two-year contract extension that’s now set to expire in 2020. 

This year, parents and district administrators alike have voiced complaints with First Student since the first week of classes. Primary concerns discussed at a late August board meeting noted a need for improved communication within the transportation company. At that point, nine days into the school year, First Student processed 955 route changes which resulted in late pickups and dropoffs. 

One month later, board members say the problems persist. 

Board Member Mike Trask said communication should be the top priority. He noted that First Student’s external communication has improved since the start of the year. Trask said he and his daughter receive notifications from the company if a bus will be late. 

But after working with Unit 5 for over six years, Trask said First Student should not continue to have these problems. 

He said while having zero late buses ever is not realistic, he wants to see more progress. 

Board member Taunia Leffler agreed. She said her child no longer takes the bus to school, but she still gets the late bus notifications. According to Leffler, that route is late by 30 minutes nearly every day, costing students “valuable education time.” 

She said she agrees with Trask that communication is a top priority, but that execution has to follow. 

Board President Barry Hitchins suggested the board explore transportation options for next year and make sure to draft a stiff contract outlining the district’s needs and concerns for communication and tardiness. 

Beyond late buses, Board Member Amy Roser mentioned stories of many Unit 5 parents who have reached out to First Student with a concern or complaint and never received a reply. 

Hitchins suggested call-tracking software be put in place to alert the district about who is calling the bus company and when their issue is resolved. 

Superintendent Mark Daniel said the next step is progressing toward a solution for next school year. 

He said he will begin discussing options Thursday with district chairs, transportation representatives, and relevant stakeholders.

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