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District 99 to switch busing companies over poor service

Downers Grove District 58, Woodridge District 68 expected to follow suit

The District 99 School Board voted unanimously Monday to switch school bus companies next year following what was described as poor service.

"We've experienced some very bad service," District 99 Controller Mark Staehlin told the board Monday. "We've had administrators who've devoted full days to deal with parents who were irate about busing. It's never been this bad."

The district is currently in its third year of a five-year contract with the current provider, Westway, Inc. Staehlin said issues began the first year with Westway but he did not provide specifics. He said service improved last year but problems returned this school year.

Westway chose to opt out of the final two years of the current contract and reopen it for bidding this spring because the current contract only allowed them to increase rates in the final two years by the CPI, Staehlin said, despite the fact that the district told the company they would not be chosen during re-bidding due to service issues.

"In March, [Westway's owner] felt it was in our best interest and probably his to go to an outside bid for this work," Staehlin said.

The board voted Monday to accept a bid from First Student, the only other company to bid other than Westway.

Westway also provides busing to Downers Grove School District 58 and Woodridge Elementary School District 68, and those two districts are also expected to switch to First Student, Staehlin said.

First Student was the company used by the district prior to Westway.

Board member Keith Matune asked if the district believes whatever issues led it to leave First Student two years ago would return.

"The service we received form First Student was not perfect, but it's not so bad," Staehlin replied.

He added that First Student touted routing systems that should improve its performance.

"If nothing else we're committed to working with them to make sure we don't have substandard service," Staehlin said.

He said the fact that First Student still has property in the district that it can use as a bus terminal was a plus.

"The very late notice that Westway would not honor the existing contract left us in a precarious position," he wrote in a memo to the board. "Bidding this service out in April would require a replacement vendor to secure a terminal location and approximately 90 to 100 vehicles and drivers in a three- to four-month period. That is very hard to accomplish."

In bidding this month, Westway's three-year bid of $5.714 million was less than First Student's bid of $5.755 million, but Staehlin said contracts for student transportation are not required by law to be awarded to the lowest bidder.

The new contract with First Student is about $400,000 more than the current contract with Westway, but Staehlin said the district hopes to reduce that number to $250,000 through route efficiencies.

"This is a large and unexpected increase," he wrote to the board. "However, the late notification by Westway that they would not honor the current contract terms places us in a position that we need to secure a contractor for next year immediately or face the possibility of not having adequate bus services in place at the start of the next school year."

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