By Terry Dean
The District 97 Board of Education, on June 11, renewed the contract of its longtime bus service provider, Lakeview Bus Lines, despite complaints from some parents about service.
Two parents brought their concerns to board members at the regular meeting. Both spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting, urging the board not to renew the contract.
They shared stories about negative experiences with the company. Allegations included a driver using foul language in front of students, a student with special needs not being buckled in properly on the bus, and buses coming to homes late or to houses where children weren't scheduled to be picked up.
The parents, Sinead Aylward and Todd Kirby, asked the board to table their decision and open the contract up for other bids, or rewrite Lakeview's contract with language addressing these raised issues. Aylward said her daughter no longer rides the bus because of the problems she's experienced.
"I think we can do better, and I think that if you want to extend the contract, you need to extend it with some measurements that you're willing to take," Aylward said.
Kirby said he's had a similar bad experience, including one instance involving his son being put on the wrong bus.
"He was eventually put on a bus but then they didn't know which bus he was on or where he was. So there was a time period — I don't remember how long it was — where we didn't know where he was. He was missing; he was on some bus somewhere," Kirby said.
The board and administration noted this was the first time they had heard of these concerns. They also said the company has received praise from other parents, including those urging the school to retain the company the last time the contract was up for bid.
Supt. Albert Roberts said the district will look at its procedures to make sure he's made aware of any concerns with the company. Therese O'Neill, D97's assistant superintendent for finance and operations, noted that some parents contact the company directly with concerns. When concerns are brought to administration, they are addressed, O'Neill added.
Roberts said the district takes any parent complaints or concerns seriously. He added that parents should bring any concerns directly to their building principal.
O'Neill added that complaints brought directly to Lakeview might not make their way to the administration's attention. D97 board members also urged the administration to keep them informed about such concerns.
The board approved Lakeview's contract, 6-0; board member Jim O'Connor was absent. The contract was renewed for two years, totaling roughly $164,000. The bus contract last went out for bid in 2011 with Lakeview coming in with the lowest offer.