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Bus Company That Hit School and Waited to Tell About Bullets Gets Another Chance

An offer to extend the time they could be fired without the school board paying stymied a vote to fire District 146's bus vendor less than a year into their contract.

By a 5-2 vote, the District 146 school board on Thursday voted not to cancel the contract on the bus company that , and, more recently, left students and parents waiting in freezing temperatures because it didn't tell the district a bus wouldn't start.

"Overall, though, has not the service been pretty good?" Illinois Central School Bus Director of Operations Ron Howard asked the school board during the meeting where they discussed whether to cancel the contract.

Illinois Central School Bus is in the first year of its three-year contract.

"I've been here eight years and I don't think in the last seven years we've had this many incidents with the bus company," board President Dean Casper said.

Since the contract was so new, the board was still in the six-month period where it could cancel and not have to pay any money to the company. That expires within the next few days. But the company offered to extend that deal until the end of the school year, essentially asking for a second chance.

"I'm not making excuses for past incidents, but I'm telling you what we can do today to make this better," Howard said.

Now the board can cancel at any time until the end of the school year without penalty. Director of Business Services Mark Schilling said a new bus contract would not be put to bid until that time anyway, essentially giving the board no specific reason to cancel the contract now rather than later.

For some board members, the ability to see if the company improves without any consequences to the district was convincing.

"I came here thinking I was all for canceling (the contract)," board member Donna Framke said.

Board members Framke, Jack Carey, Denis Ryan, Julie Jackson and John Malloy voted against canceling the contract. Casper and board member Amy Connolly voted to cancel it.

No Video During Incidents

After the bullet incident (which turned out to be due to a student who brought them to show his friends), the bus crash and a few other incidents, most notably in the first few weeks of class where a kindergartner was dropped off two blocks from the right stop, the district asked to view security video from inside the bus only to be told there was none.

In total, video wasn't available 6.8 percent of the time the district asked to review it, according to numbers Illinois Central provided the district.

Howard said the 6.8 percent happening to include the biggest incidents the district has faced in the year was "uncanny."

The reasons there was no video varied, said Christine Wiig, a regional sales representative for 247 Security Inc., which provides the cameras for the bus company. There was no video of the bus crash because it happened on a field trip when video is not regularly taken, she said. As for the bullet incident, the hard drive on the digital camera simply froze mid-route.

247 Security Inc. will be installing an upgraded system in the buses no matter if District 146 decided to cancel later on in the school year, Wiig said. The main difference is that the new system will send a wireless signal to a central operator if the cameras aren't working. Currently, only the bus driver is notified if a camera goes out.

However, the new system only notifies the operator of an outage when the bus is in the garage. The wireless signal isn't strong enough to send the signal any farther than that. If the camera goes out mid-route – as happened with the bullet incident – the central operator isn't notified.

The operator would be notified when the bus pulls back into the garage, Wiig said.

Communication a Concern

Board member Amy Connolly was one of the parents left standing in the cold when the company didn't tell the district one of the buses wouldn't start.

She said Illinois Central has a poor track record of communicating with the district and it would not change any time soon.

"I just feel like we have to send a message," Connolly said.

Casper said his concern with the bullet incident was not that a camera had technical difficulties but that the bus company waited nearly 24 hours before telling the district two grade school students found a .44-caliber bullet when they got on the bus to go home on Tuesday, Jan. 25, Casper said.

The students turned it over to the bus driver who, instead of telling teachers inside the school, pulled out from the school and started on the route, Casper said. The bus driver then waited to tell the dispatcher, who then didn't tell the manager until Wednesday morning. The manager had the bus searched, at which point a 9 mm bullet was also found.

The bus company told the district on Wednesday afternoon, by which time the district had heard from the parents of one of the students who found the bullet.

"When a second grader is the one who handled this the best, that's not right," Casper said. "The failures have been colossal failures."

Citizen of Tinley Park February 25, 2011 at 03:59 PM
Your title to this article is very misleading! I was at the same meeting last night and did not see this at all. What I saw was a board that left the contract as is for the time being. This makes sense. After all even if they canceled the contract last night our children would still be driven to and from school by this bus company until the end of this school year. Let me ask you this. Would you want your child on a school bus with a driver who could care less because they won't be working for the school district next year? Or would you rather your child be on a school bus with a driver who is bending over backwards to do their very best to help keep the contract for next year? You tell me. I know I would rather my child be on a bus with a driver trying their very best!
Paul Dailing February 25, 2011 at 04:20 PM
I stand by the headline. The vote was whether to end the contract last night and the board voted against it, telling the company to do better in the future or they're gone. I call that a second chance. The story gets into the reasons 5/7 of the board voted this way. (And I see you agree with the decision.) The story outlines the reasons WHY the bus company got another chance. The headline just points out THAT the company was about to be fired last night but wasn't.
Citizen of Tinley Park February 25, 2011 at 06:06 PM
I feel the article itself was very truthful and insightful. However, I still feel your headline was very misleading, inflammatory and very negatively charged. It makes it sound as if the School Board and the School District are being neglectful to the students’ safety in their approach to giving the bus company a second chance.
Paul Dailing February 26, 2011 at 06:40 PM
You make an interesting point. I wrote the headline intending it as "another chance ... to do better" or "another chance ... to make things right." It hadn't occurred to me to read "another chance" any other way. Reading it again after your last comment, I can see that there is another equally valid interpretation of the headline, one I didn't intend. District 146 has made student safety a priority in every discussion I've seen. I did not intend to imply otherwise. On a personal note, thank you for pointing this out. I wrote the headline knowing what I meant, which is a rookie goof. This has been a good reminder for me to always be on the lookout for possible interpretations other than the one I intended. I'm glad to know the site has readers who care enough about the community to call us on things like his.

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