By Steve Robinson | August 10, 2017 - 10:06 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – As the new school year approaches, both Normal-based Unit 5 School Board members and an official from First Student Bus Co. agreed on one thing to be paramount on the first day of class Aug. 16: Busing students must show a complete turnaround from the way it was handled at the beginning of last school year.

Mark Bohl, location manager for First Student Bus Co., addressed Board members at their Aug. 9 meeting at district headquarters, assuring them this year’s transportation situation will be a complete improvement from last year, which included among other things, late buses both to and home from school.

“The 16th is game time,” Bohl said, putting a positive spin on how ready he and his drivers are to get the job done. He told Board members First Student has 144 drivers total, with another 26 in training to handle the 126 routes they must cover to get kids to and from school.

“It was stressed to drivers how important what happened last year can’t happen again,” added Joe Adelman, operations manager for the district, who participated in the meeting’s busing discussion. Adelman added that Bohl “has taken ownership of” the district’s busing component.

Should overcrowding on buses become an issue this year, Bohl said, additional buses will be deployed to meet up with buses needing to reduce its number of passengers, getting those additional students on a particular bus to class safely. There was such crowding on some buses last year that students were sitting in the aisles. In addition to late buses, overcrowding on buses was a frequent complaint lodged with the district.

There will be enough buses on the street, Bohl told Board members, “With the exception of three or four buses, I expect the bus depot lot to be empty.”

Unit 5 mapAdelman added, however, parents will need to exercise some patience during the first few days buses are running. “We can’t control trains going through,” he said. “We can’t control ISU students coming back which might cause delays.” That was a reference to Illinois State University students coming back to town as their fall semester begins Aug. 21. They have been arriving back in town for the semester this week.

Mike Trask, perhaps the most vocal Board member to be critical of how the busing situation developed last year, told Bohl after hearing what First Student has planned, “I have full confidence in you. I appreciate the driver numbers and where they’re at. We fully expect Aug. 16’s activity to not be outside the norm.”

Leading up to Aug. 16, Bohl informed Board members First Student drivers would hold dry runs on routes on Aug. 14 and 15, a process which would include verifying routes and spot-checking for miscellaneous issues.

Despite such planning, Bohl cautioned, buses could run late at times. When those moments occur, should the bus be late getting to school by over 10 minutes, the school will be notified by phone and email. Should that delay happen on the way home, parents will receive a phone message through the district’s Skyward messaging system.

Working Cash Abatement Approved: Board members unanimously approved abating the working cash fund the district had used to spend $3.5 million to purchase 26 buses and renew leases on five others. The money used to pay for the buses was approved last year and the money went from the district’s working cash fund into the Transportation fund to make the purchases. As a result of the recent purchases, Unit 5 now has a total of 145 buses, explained Marty Hickman, business manager for the district.

Board Approves Memorandum Of Understanding With Town: Board members approved a Memorandum of Understanding between the district and the Town of Normal. As a result, the two governing bodies will form a Liaison Committee which would be comprised of two members from the district and two Town Council members. With an initial meeting scheduled for Aug. 29, it is anticipated that group will meet quarterly. Each group will choose two members to be part of the committee, with City Manager Mark Peterson and Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent, attending, as well. However, Peterson and Daniel would not be voting members.

At a joint meeting of Unit 5 Board members and Town Council members held in Council Chamber July 26, Normal Mayor Chris Koos directed Peterson to draw up a Memorandum of Understanding between the Town and the district. Peterson would negotiate the agreement with Daniel.

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