School Board Critical Of Bus Contractor

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska - The school district is still having issues with bus transportation, two months after classes started.
Julia Laude was at the school board meeting Tuesday evening to hear from First Student representatives about what they're doing to improve service.
"We've had a number of challenges and I'm here tonight to talk to you about those," First Student Area General Manager Bill Noftz told the board. "We want to make sure that we are meeting the expectations of the community which we realize to date we have not been and it's also important to us for you to realize that we're not meeting our own expectations of ourselves."

Noftz and his team joined the school board to give an update on the district's transportation issues.
And while there have been areas of improvement, including an increase in drivers and staff, the board was still not satisfied with First Student.

"There's a lot of angst going on in the community that I think, I'll just cut to the chase, you're not fulfilling the basic need that we have to have without failure," said board member Thomas Bartels.

Because of the rapid hiring of staff by the bus company, one of the main concerns put forth by the board is if drivers are being properly screened.

"Background checks, drug and alcohol screening - yes, absolutely," Noftz said. "All of our candidates have gone through our training program. They've gone through extensive screening."

Despite Noftz's absolute confidence, the board was still unsure.
President Heidi Haas says she receives communication from parents and community members everyday with concerns about transportation.

"So you talked about the navigational aids; the communication I got was that somebody is holding an iPad-type device while they're driving," Haas told Noftz. "I've also gotten things about employees in the middle of a route stopping and taking a smoke break. I'm hoping that those aren't regular occurrences, that you guys are addressing those things as they come up."

Treasurer Allyson Lambert challenged First Student to make positive changes so they're not sitting before the board next year dealing with the same issues.

"I just remember two years ago when you were here that this is the exact same conversation that we had at that time and asking the same questions," Lambert said. "I guess the question is: How are you not going to be here next year in the same seat saying the same stuff?"

There will be 14 new drivers joining First Student, starting within the next few weeks.