Unit 5NORMAL – Teamwork between drivers for Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Bus Co. and Normal-based Unit 5 School District is improving, explained the bus company’s location manager. Mark Bohl updated School Board members on progress being made to make sure this fall’s busing of students will be improved over difficulties experienced by parents, students, and the district at the start of the school year last year.

“We’ve seen teamwork improved over the past school year,” said Bohl. Bohl, a military veteran, was hired last October to attempt to improve the situation that was experienced at the start of last school year. “Everyone is doing a good job and attendance by drivers changed 100 percent from last fall. About 130 drivers are on First Student’s payroll, and the company, as required by agreement with the school district, is attempting to maintain a substitute driver pool of around 15 percent, he said.

Bohl said two people have been designated to answer phone calls for First Student from parents when the school year starts, explaining “communication is the key.”

Regarding what transpired at the beginning of last school year, Bohl said First Student had a “false calm” about the start of school. He said an increase in drivers last December helped improve the situation.

Having heard this report, Board President Jim Hayek, Jr. suggested to Bohl that “it would be helpful to the Board if you and Dr. Daniel reported to us inf the first few days of school” concerning how matters were progressing. Dr. Mark Daniel is Unit 5 Superintendent.

Unit 5 mapSome Districts In State Considering Not Opening In Fall: But before buses can even begin to roll to a school, the school has to be open, ready to receive students. For some district superintendents, Daniel said after the meeting, there are concerns about and even contemplation of not opening schoolhouse doors if State funding isn’t there. Board members unanimously approved amending the district’s 2016-17 school year budget which closes out at the end of the month. Combined, the district’s Transportation and Education budgets show a $5.5 million deficit, the majority of monies due would be coming from Springfield.

The State owes Unit 5 payments totaling $8.1 million for Transportation and Special Education reimbursement The State has, so far, only provided Unit 5 with one payment toward that debt. The district is hoping to receive another State payment by June 30.

Following the meeting, Daniel told reporters, “We’re facing a difficult year ahead.”

Transportation and Special Education reimbursements from the State are referred to by educators as categoricals. “Without categoricals, we have enough money to get through 75 percent of the school year,” explained Board Member Joe Cleary following the meeting.

Daniel said a State-wide group which addresses issues of large school districts, Springfield-based Large Unit District Association, is encouraging its member district superintendents to get the public to write their legislators to push them to pass a budget in time to begin the 2017-18 school year.

He added parents need to begin writing letters to State Representatives and State Senators with their concerns about the consequences of what a potential third year with no State budget would mean for Unit 5. He said 60 percent of the State’s students go to school in 58 districts in the State.

As of the end of that meeting, Daniel said, “We’re not at the point of saying ‘don’t open.’”

Unit 5 Getting Virtual Classrooms: Board member unanimously approved a $170,880 contract with Normal-based Zdi Audio Visual for a virtual classroom project to be installed for use at both Normal Community West High School and Normal Community High School beginning this fall. Unit 5 will use capital projects fund dollars to pay for project. Zdi will install and maintain high-resolution screens, as well as visual equipment and sound equipment in one classroom per high school. The visual and sound equipment at both schools will have motion-detecting capabilities.

Board Approves Renewal Of Insurance, Workers’ Comp. : Board members unanimously voted to renew district insurance policies through various insurers including AIG;; Allied World National Assurance; ACE; Travelers; and Wright Specialty Insurance. The insurance paid for covers auto; property; general liability; crime; and boiler and machinery. In addition, the District pays for an umbrella policy, and several individual liability policies.

The district’s premium for the policy this coming school year totals $1.2 million, an increase of 7.42 percent, or $83,857, from what the district previously paid.

In addition, a workers’ compensation coverage plan with Safety National Insurance was approved, its premium totaling $92,169 annually. That amount is 1.9 percent less, or $1,765 less being paid by the district from what they paid for coverage last year. Also, Unit 5 will pay Cannon Cochran Management Services to serve as a third party administrator for claims. That firm will receive $13,000 for their services.

Next Board Meeting July 12: There will be no second Board meeting in June. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, July 12 at District headquarters, 1809 W. Hovey Ave.

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