Proviso Board President Emanuel "Chris" Welch and the Proviso School Board recently approved a $3.6 million dollar contract with First Student Bus Company to create the first ever district run busing program. The goal of the busing program is to boost attendance by getting kids to school. According to Board President Welch, "PACE has just not serviced us properly."
Proviso East students will be the first to receive free bus transportation to and from school through Proviso High School District 209.
Bus routes and stops are being worked out, but school bus service is scheduled to start Jan. 20, 2009 for Proviso East students. The plan sets Feb. 17, 2009 as the start date for Proviso West bus service.
Service was announced at the Nov. 17 School Board meeting. Trustees approved a transportation contract with First Student for $3.76 million per year for two years. Security cameras for each bus were included in the contract.
The district pursued bus service for nearly all its students after receiving approval July 9 from the Illinois Department of Transportation to classify certain areas around the school district as safety hazards.
That qualified the district for state transportation reimbursement for busing students who live within a 1 1/2-mile radius of the school. Without the safety-hazard waiver, there is no reimbursement of transportation expenses for students within that distance.
The state will cover about 80 percent of the transportation costs, said District 209 Finance and Operations Assistant Superintendent Nikita Johnson. The district is responsible for the remaining costs, which will not be billed to parents, Johnson said.
School officials expect 95 percent of the approximately 5,000 students in the district will be eligible for free transportation, said Proviso East Assistant Principal Dan Johnson, who has been working on the transportation issue.
Prior to the waiver, about 70 percent of students from Proviso West and 45 percent from East were eligible for free transportation, Johnson said.
Bus service was offered a year ago for 400 to 500 Proviso West students who secured seats on eight buses on a first-come, first-served sign-up basis. There was no bus service for Proviso East students.
No bus service is scheduled at this time for the approximately 600 students attending Proviso Mathematics and Science Academy in Forest Park.
"It would be more difficult to start a bus service for those students in the midst of start up for East and West," said TaQuoya Kennedy, spokesperson for District 209. "Logistically, we cannot coordinate that at this time. But it is something that we hope to look at in the future."
There is hope among district administrators that bus service for Proviso East and West will help attendance and reduce truancy.
"This is an effort to improve the quality of life for our students, to ensure that they get to school safely and on time, and ultimately improve (the district's) truancy rates," Nikita Johnson said.
"With district-wide transportation, we eliminate some of the hazards or obstacles that may keep students from getting to school and getting the education they need."