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Unit 5 considers delaying decision on bus service change

NORMAL (WEEK) - McLean County's largest school district may wind up sticking with the same school bus company next school year even though the school board, administrators, and parents are far from satisfied with the current provider.

The school board will consider extending its multi-million dollar contract with First Student for another year to provide more time to study a consultant's report about various transportation options. Those options include hiring another bus operator, or the district setting up its own bus system, which could take up to two years, according to School Board President Barry Hitchins.

First Student was criticized at the start of this school year for late buses, not having enough drivers, and communication breakdowns.

Hitchins released the following statement:

"At the Unit 5 Board of Education meeting in January we heard a presentation from a transportation consultant.  That presentation included a cost benefit analysis and proposed timeline of 18-24 months for potential insourcing. This raised some concern about the timeline needed for potentially changing transportation service providers. This timeline concern as well as the general risk associated with changing transportation service providers lead the Board to direct to Unit 5 administration to seek a one-year extension with First Student.  This extension will provide the time needed to assess the full report provided by the transportation consultant and determine the best solution for Unit 5 student transportation going forward."

Unit 5 would boost its subsidy to First Student by 3.75 percent from the current year to about $9.5 million. The proposed contract extension includes financial penalties for lack of performance.

The board will vote on the contract extension in the coming weeks.

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Howard Packowitz

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