© 2023 WGLT
NPR from Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

First Student Touts Tech Updates, 97% Staffing To Unit 5 Board

Eric Stock
The Unit 5 School Board will consider transportation options for next school year, potentially ending a seven-year partnership with First Student.

Representatives from First Student made their pitch to Unit 5 officials Wednesday as the school board continues to mull over transportation options for next school year.

First Student Regional Manager Chris Coyle noted that buses are now operating 95% on time. That’s in stark contrast to the beginning of the school year when a lack of drivers forced long pickup and drop-off wait times.

Despite improvements, longtime board member Mike Trask said, “the communication was horrific. And that’s been a struggle. And battling this for the first few months of a school year and then suddenly everything is rosy and great by November, to me, is starting to wear thin on me.”

First Student Senior Vice President for Commercial Development Roger Moore admitted guilt on behalf of the busing company, but contends that changes have been made to solve those problems.

Moore and Coyle both point to new technology as evidence that the busing company is continuing to make strides toward more reliable service. Included in those updates is a feedback platform.

School board member Alan Kalitzky also noted communication as a major concern this fall when buses were consistently late on certain routes.

“Obviously (it’s) always fantastic having several different opportunities in which we as a community can communicate with First Student to make sure that our concerns and/or our accolades are heard appropriately,” Kalitzky said.

First Student is also rolling out a parent route tracking app for two Unit 5 schools (Fairview and Hudson) beginning Jan. 1. And if the company’s contract is renewed, drivers next fall will be equipped with tablets that provide GPS and various safety checkpoints.

97% Fully Staffed

In addition to a significant decrease in tardy buses, Moore said First Student’s local hub is now 97% fully staffed. That leaves only four positions unfilled. Coyle said those positions are filled by borrowing drivers from surrounding districts.

First Student had adequate staffing ahead of this school year, but Moore said 24 drivers did not show up on the first day, which sent the company into a spiral.

He noted First Student has hired 36 drivers locally since May, and he anticipates more once wages are increased. However, 15 local drivers have left the company in that same time frame.

But Moore commended his team for attracting CDL-equipped drivers in a competitive area where the unemployment rate is so low.

Unit 5 has not yet decided on further action. Options include taking busing on in-house, issuing a request for proposals from interested busing companies, or extending First Student’s near $9 million contract.

First Student has partnered with Unit 5 since 2012.

People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.

Related Content