The Dist. 99 school board unanimously approved a $5.76 million contract for a new school bus provider beginning in the 2014-15 school year.
First Student, Inc. will provide student transportation services for Dist. 99, which includes North and South high schools. The contract will be in effect for three years, through the end of the 2016-17 school year, a district news advisory said.
According to district officials, Cook-Illinois Company and its subsidiary Westway, elected not to extend its five-year contract, which was tied to the consumer price index and capped at 1.7 percent. Instead, the company, which has been providing bus service since 2011, submitted a bid for a new contract.
Dist. 99 selected First Student from the two proposals it received, in addition to Westway.
“I consider First Student as our first step in providing more consistent and reliable transportation services for our students and families, and we look forward to working with them now until the first day of school on August 25 to make sure we get off to a great start,” district controller Mark Staehlin said in a news release. “First Student has assigned a veteran management team to serve us and their suggestions for addressing critical system problems make sense to us, so we are confident this is the right direction.”
Staehlin cited continue problems of buses not running on time and urged the board to approve the contract with First Student, even though it was $41,000 more than Westway's proposal at the April 21 board meeting, Trib Local reported.
"It's never been this bad," Staehlin said. "We have parents who are very tired of poor bus service. We've had administrators who have devoted full days to dealing with parents that are irate about busing."
Cook-Illinois CEO John Benish Jr. attributed the decline in bus service to a shortage of drivers. At current rates stipulated in the company’s contract were insufficient to attract and retain drivers, Trib Local said.
Officials estimate the new contract could increase the district’s costs by $400,000 per year. District officials are working with First Student as well as Districts 58 and 68 to find ways to reduce this impact, and are hopeful the increase might be closer to $250,000 per year.