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Despite troubles, Gary School Board keeps bus company

Updated: April 28, 2013 7:12AM



GARY — A divided School Board voted 4-3 Tuesday to renew a contract with Illinois Central Bus Co., which struggled the first three months of the school year to transport students to school.

Details of the bid award were not divulged. The board selected Illinois Central over First Student Inc. Now, the school district must finalize a contract with Illinois Central. One board member estimated the cost as not to exceed $4.9 million.

Debate over the Illinois Central bid came after Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt recommended the board approve its bid award over First Student.

Fred Smith, director of business development for First Student, told the board that information for its proposal was not forthcoming from the administration. “Given all the obstacles, we still prepared a proposal.” He said First Student planned to serve Gary students with a new $7 million fleet.

Others, including student council president David King and union representatives, spoke in favor of Illinois Central.

“We saw change. We saw buses on time and young children weren’t standing outside in the cold,” King said in contrast to the opening weeks of school.

Kevin Mest, CEO of Illinois Central, said his company also would introduce a new fleet of buses. “Our drivers live in this community and they care about the kids they are driving,” he said.

Board members Marion Williams, Robert Campbell and Nellie Moore voted against the award to Illinois Central, while Antuwan Clemons, LaBrenda King-Smith, Doretha Rouse and Rosie Washington supported it.

“In the months of August, September and October, parents complained at every board meeting, parents cried,” Williams said. “This recommendation is not a good one.”

Clemons disagreed, saying what happened in the past shouldn’t be important. “I’m 22 years old and I have a direct line to these students. I’m not going to let anyone come in and put manure on this table.”

In other business, the board approved a resolution in opposition of House Bill 1003 that would expand the state’s voucher program, adding another $21 million to the effort.



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