By SALLY SEXTON
The Weatherford Independent School District will have a new look, at least as far as buses go, as the district announced Thursday night at its regular monthly board meeting to award a contract to First Student, Inc. to provide transportation services.
The district had contracted with Durham School Services since the beginning of the 1988-99 school year, before awarding a five-year contract to First Student Thursday night.
Things between the Weatherford Durham bus drivers and the transportation company got heated, as drivers and monitors expressed their displeasure with Durham before voting to unionize in May and join the Transport Workers Union of America. In late February, the group voted to authorize a strike, after failing to agree on a contract with Durham.
Union members were on hand during Thursday’s meeting to voice their opinion on the bidding situation.
“We struck up negotiations [with Durham] again April 4, but they still stood by their final offer,” Lori Kitts, a driver and member of the Weatherford union negotiating team, said. “They made it clear that their number one priority was protecting their profit margins, but the best way to do that was to take care of their employees.”
Durham’s contract with the district will officially end July 31, while the contract with First Student begins Aug. 1.
“We are looking forward to working with First Student and getting a contract,” Dan Linden, another member of the negotiating team, said.
“[Friday] was the first time in a year that I was happy to come to work,” Kitts added.
Weatherford ISD superintendent Jeffrey Hanks said the district had a wonderful partnership with Durham and looks forward to the same kind of relationship with First Student.
According to Lance Guy, business development manager for First Student, current Durham drivers and staff that meet First Student’s qualifications will be hired, and additional drivers and staff from the local area will also be eligible for employment.
Each new First Student driver will undergo an extensive training program, including classroom, behind-the-wheel and safety-orientation training, before transporting any students.
Based out of Cincinnati,, First Student will also provide its own fleet of 53 buses, each equipped with GPS tracking systems, Child Check-Mate electronic reminder systems and crossing gates to allow children to cross in front of the bus at a safe distance. Buses serving the district will also have cameras to monitor onboard activities.
First Student provides student transportation in 38 states and nine Canadian provinces and maintains a fleet of more than 54,000 buses to serve 6 million students each day.