Flossmoor School District 161 administrators say they will continue working with Paige Bus Enterprises on improving route efficiencies and other issues over the next two years with the renewal of the company’s contract. The Flossmoor School Board on Jan. 14 approved a two-year contract extension that includes a 10 percent increase each year of the contract.
Flossmoor School District 161 administrators say they will continue working with Paige Bus Enterprises on improving route efficiencies and other issues over the next two years with the renewal of the company’s contract.
The Flossmoor School Board on Jan. 14 approved a two-year contract extension that includes a 10 percent increase each year of the contract.
The daily rate for a single bus route will rise from $234.70 in the 2018-19 school year to $268.07 in 2019-20 and $294.99 in 2020-21.
In an effort to retain drivers, the company plans to increase its starting salary from $15 per hour to $15.75 per hour in the 2019-20 school year. The starting salary was $12 per hour at the start of the contract.
The company also cited the rising costs of liability insurance and fuel and the costs of maintaining the fleet as reasons for requesting more money.
Superintendent Dana Smith said the district is being more aggressive in monitoring buses using GPS, and the company leadership has been working with the administration on reducing the number of routes.
“Part of the opportunity that you have, certainly at an elementary district, is to do whatever you can to bend over backwards and help families,” he said. “The flipside of that is you can end up with a patchwork of bus stops, and that creates inefficiencies.”
Associate Superintendent for Business Frances LaBella said the possibility of changing school start times and increasing the capacity of each bus was explored, but it would have only ended up reducing about one bus route.
The district is also working with the bus company to help drivers feel like part of the schools and school culture, LaBella said.
“(When) a bus driver doesn’t show up, that has a whole trickle-down effect,” she said. “By the time you get a substitute driver and so on, well now we’re really behind the clock.”
Absenteeism tends to be less of an issue when employees feel good about coming to work, she said.
Board member Cameron Nelson expressed concern that the district’s operating budget will not be able to continue absorbing 10 percent cost increases.
“If the quality is not there over the next few years, I personally would not hesitate in asking to get rid of them,” Nelson said. “They’d better deliver, and two years from now they’d better not come to us asking for another 10 percent.”
Smith said the end of Paige Enterprise’s contract in two years will represent five years with the company and would be an appropriate time to go to bid for bus contracts.
“We love our relationship with our vendors, but at some point we need to go out and make sure we’re getting the best cost,” he said.
The superintendent also said the district will continue to “hold their feet to the fire” with regards to improving service.
“We’ve helped Paige understand how much of an issue this is for us and how critical it is to our function, and they’ve responded positively,” Smith said. “We’re not going to take our foot off the gas pedal as far as the pressure is concerned.”
Board member Misha Blackman said she had recently seen a Flossmoor school bus driver driving aggressively.
“I don’t get an opportunity to stop and look because I’m trying not to get hit, but I’m hoping there are no kids on the bus,” she said.
LaBella said a driver had just been fired for aggressive driving after a parent complaint was investigated and found to be credible.
Because all buses are monitored through GPS, the district can observe how fast buses are going as well as their locations and whether or not they are on time.
Despite this issue, LaBella said she continues seeing fewer parent complaints about bus services, which is a step in the right direction.
“I won’t be content until we go weeks without one delayed bus, one complaint,” she said. “While we have dramatically improved, we still have a way to go, and we’re going to get there. It’s just a matter of time and getting the right people.”