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Driver at center of busing turmoil terminated

Saratoga board takes official step, hires additional drivers

The bus driver who dropped off about 30 White Oak Elementary students at a park after their first day of school was officially terminated by the Saratoga School District 60C Board on Tuesday.

A special meeting was held to take action on the bus driver, as well as hire five additional drivers, Superintendent Kathy Perry said Wednesday.

This is the first school year where Morris Elementary School District 54, Morris Community High School District 101 and District 60c are sharing a busing system facilitated by Saratoga. Under this system, Shabbona Middle School and Morris High School students are picked up first, then buses go back for White Oak students. This system uses fewer buses and less labor, saving the districts money.

On the first day of school for the elementary and middle school kids, the driver of bus 12 was unsure of where the students’ bus stops were, so the driver made a “very bad decision” and dropped the students off at Goodwill Park, which is on the east side of town, Perry said previously.

The bus was carrying about 30 White Oak students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Numerous parents stated to the Morris Daily Herald that the driver may have had a language barrier.

Perry previously confirmed the driver spoke both English and Spanish, with Spanish being his first language, but she would not speculate whether this was the reason for his confusion. The driver had bus experience and drove for Illinois Central School Bus previously.

In addition to this incident, some students were put on wrong buses and many dropped off at or close to 5 p.m. The first two weeks of school contained numerous busing incidents, including students getting to school and home late. But everyone ultimately got home safely.

Wednesday, the Saratoga board unanimously approved terminating the driver, who had not driven a school bus for the Morris schools since that first day, Perry said Wednesday.

In addition, the board approved the hiring of drivers Mary Ann Panzica, Heather Stanford, Gregory Larson, Thomas Schmidberger and Katie Kinzler.

The districts have been short drivers because one quit last week and drivers that they had as back-ups are no longer available because they took other jobs. They have been using subs with monitors for the buses.

The schools had a list of back-up drivers, most of whom worked for the schools’ previous company, Illinois Central School Bus. The back-up drivers were so they could see exactly how the routes would run once school started and how many more drivers would be needed.

Panzica is a former Illinois Central driver and began driving for the schools again Wednesday, Perry said. Kinzler is also a former Illinois Central driver and will be driving soon.

Stanford is a former bus driver who stopped to raise her children and is being trained again, Perry said. Larson and Schmidberger are new and are going through bus driver training as well.

Perry said the busing has gone smoother this week. Two routes are being reworked to accommodate timing issues.

Dist. 54 Superintendent Teri Shaw said school was dismissed at the regular times Tuesday. Becasue of some of the routes being changed, parents of busers will be called next week to confirm bus numbers and times.

In addition, another registration form will be sent to parents inside the midterm progress reports at the end of next week. The districts are asking the forms be filled out again to address a computer glitch where some students had wrong or old addresses listed for them. This glitch resulted in some students being put on wrong buses that first week, Shaw said.

“We are just checking and double checking,” she said.

For more information on the busing system, visit your school’s website for a question-and-answer link.

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