First Student

A school bus travels to Danville High School on Wednesday. The Danville District 118 School Board Wednesday night voted against a new contract with First Student transportation for school district bus services. First Student was the lowest of two bids the district received. A new request for proposals will have to be issued by the school district.

DANVILLE — The Danville District 118 School Board voted 5-2 Wednesday night against a new contract with First Student to continue providing bus service for students.

Board members voting against the contract were Shannon Schroeder, Chris Easton, Tyson Parks, Thomas Miller and Johnnie Carey. Those voting for the contract were Randal Ashton and Darlene Halloran.

School officials cited concerns about operations not improving much since school started in August on route changes and communication issues, and bus driver shortages.

Carey asked First Student representatives who were in person at the meeting, why she should vote for a new contract when she wasn’t contacted about bus issues she brought up in August, and issues are still occurring.

Superintendent Alicia Geddis said some buses are at capacity with 75 students and others have about five students. She’s asked for a bus audit for years and hasn’t received one.

The D118 school board Wednesday night voted against a two-year contract with First Student with the option to extend for two additional years with a 3 percent increase each year. The first year’s cost would have been $4.9 million. This is an 8.75 percent increase or a $401,287 increase. There was a 3 percent increase in years two through four.

The second bid received was $5.2 million from North America Central. This would be a total annual percentage increase of 15.31 percent.

According to a memo on the transportation bid recommendation from Business and Finance Director Narcissus Rankin, the current transportation contract with First Student ends this school year.

The district had a bid opening on Jan. 10. There were two transportation companies present, First Student and North America Central.

First Student has provided transportation for D118 for more than 20 years.

“We have worked collaboratively to provide quality, student-focused services. Admittedly, this school year has come with an abundance of challenges, from communication, routing, late buses and the change of local management,” Rankin stated. “Most if not all these hurdles can be attributed to an employee shortage at First Student.”

“First Student has committed to increasing communication with the district, provide seamless routing, increase district and parental phone support and to initiate a streamline training and hiring/retention process,” Rankin continued.

Rankin also pointed out that the transportation contract includes a liquidated damages and cancellation clause in the event the bidder fails to comply with, fully perform and strictly adhere to the contract specifications.

Ashton said a message has been sent to First Student about how the board feels. He hopes something can be worked out. The school district will have to conduct another request for proposals for bus service. Geddis and school board members have been asked for specific deliverables to be included in a contract.

First Student representatives said they have a new location manager starting and other employees with ties and children in the community.

“We understand we have not performed up to expectations,” said Chris Coyle, area general manager.

He said they’ve been working on routing issues and recruitment for staffing, and things are getting better. They are training seven drivers now to full seven vacancies.

Carey also said First Student needs to communicate earlier in the day with parents if buses are running late.

First Student officials said they have a commitment to the school district to meet everyone’s standards. They said the 8 percent cost increase addresses the driver shortage and having competitive wages.

Ashton said the school district needs bus service and the district has had a “decent relationship” with First Student in the past.

First Student officials said they’re more than happy to work with the district to set standards, expectations, dates with deliverables to provide services desired.

Easton also brought up how D118 supplies fuel for the buses, and the school district receives state reimbursement payments to cover about 80 percent of the transportation costs.

Also Wednesday, the board had a first review of new course offerings at Danville High School. They are: forensic speech, culinary arts 2, adult living, baking and ancient civilization. A first reading also occurred for replacement course offerings of AP pre-calculus instead of honors pre-calculus and senior English 12.1 and 12.2 to replace three other courses.

The board also heard the school district will be offering elementary and middle school summer school from June 12 to July 6. There will be no school on June 19 to celebrate Juneteenth or on July 4 to celebrate Independence Day. K-8 students will not have summer school on Fridays. Kenneth D. Bailey Academy and Danville High School students will meet on Fridays during summer school. Some location changes include using Liberty Elementary instead of Mark Denman Elementary due to construction; and KDBA students will be at Edison Elementary. Art Camp and Camp Invention will be at Meade Park Elementary this summer.

The board also heard from Danville Public School Foundation Executive Director Bob Richard about the Dick Van Dyke auditorium lighting, sound and rigging improvements being completed and a $320,000 check being given from the foundation to the school district in partnering on the work.

The board also heard about a D118 art show at the Danville Art League during February. An open house will be from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 18. Artwork from students at DHS, North Ridge Middle School and South View Upper Elementary School are on display.

At the suggestion of Southwest Elementary School pre-k teacher Maurita Keyser, the school district supports starting D118 casual compassion days where staff can donate money to wear jeans on certain days. A committee will look at the needs of teachers and where the donated money can help. Keyser explained the idea for this came from a television special about kindness. There is a Southwest teacher adopting four children and Keyser said the teacher could use assistance. There also can be other employees with needs.

In other business, the board approved:

  • An agreement with Taylor Speech Therapy Co. for virtual speech services. The special education department has seen an increase in special education students this school year. Meeting the demand for speech services has become increasingly difficult, according to Molly Bailey, special education director. District speech pathologists and contractual employees are at legal limits. The contract allows for up to 10 hours a week for all direct and indirect services, billed at $100 an hour. Additional hours would be billed at $150 an hour. This is higher than a current contract D118 has in place.
  • Danville High School Future Problem Solvers’ international competition trip to Amherst, Mass. from June 7-11. The board heard from the group about this year’s project.
  • An East Central Illinois Community Action Agency service agreement and second $50,000 installment payment for tutoring.
  • Cancelling the Feb. 15 school board meeting.
  • Accepting the audit results. The district was cited for internal control review processes. Geddis said one position hadn’t been filled. Staffing in the business office needs to be looked at, school board members say.

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