Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bus Fight Steering Clear of Court First Student to Pay $245,000

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bus Fight Steering Clear of Court First Student to Pay $245,000

Article excerpt

Byline: Laura Diamond, Times-Union staff writer

The Duval County School Board's largest bus contractor will keep all its routes through an agreement approved yesterday.

In exchange, First Student will pay $245,000 to the school system and drop its lawsuit against the School Board.

The settlement ends a dispute over bus problems students experienced during the first two weeks of school. When classes began, First Student was short more than 50 drivers. Some students walked five miles to get to school.

To punish First Student, the board voted to take away one route for every non-certified driver working at the company. An audit showed that 77 drivers lacked certification, meaning the company would lose that many routes.

First Student sued the School Board to keep its routes.

Rather than go to court, representatives from the company and school system participated in mediation Wednesday and Thursday.

The settlement, approved by a 5-1 vote, was the result of the mediation. Board member Gwen Gibson voted against the settlement. Board Vice Chairman Jimmie Johnson abstained because his relatives are local bus drivers.

Gibson said the agreement fails to address all of the board's concerns. For example, the settlement says that school system staff will reorganize the process to check driver certification, but there were no details about how or when that will be accomplished.

"I don't think this was the best move for us to make," Gibson said.

Other board members were thrilled to have the issue behind them.

Board members voted during a closed meeting with their attorneys. When the meeting ended, board members left with smiles on their faces. Chairwoman Susan Wilkinson hugged attorney Cindy Laquidara.

First Student representatives also celebrated the settlement. With the lawsuit resolved, Greg Walter, regional vice president for First Student, said the company now can focus on busing.

"I look forward to a long and satisfactory relationship with the Duval County school system and today we redouble our company's commitment to safety, reliability and fine customer service," First Student President Bruce Lyskawa said in a prepared statement. …

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