Early in the morning on Jan. 8, 41 cheerleaders were at Riverside-Brookfield High School, waiting for a bus to take them to a meet at Buffalo Grove High School. There was just one problem. No bus showed up to take them there.
When cheerleading coach Chris Borzym called the bus company’s emergency number no one answered the phone. Athletic Director Art Ostrow also could not contact the bus company. Finally, some parents decided to drive the cheerleaders to their meet.
It was the second time this school year that an Illinois Central bus failed to show up at RBHS. During the fall, the freshman football team was left stranded when no bus showed up to take them to a game on a Saturday morning. Again, no one answered the phone when coaches called the emergency number at Illinois Central.
District 208 is in the second year of the three-year contract with Illinois Central to provide bus service to transport students to extracurricular events. Last year was relatively trouble free, but this year there have been more problems.
During the fall, especially in October, Illinois Central often couldn’t fill the school’s needs and RBHS had to turn to its previous bus company. So far this year, RBHS has requested service from Illinois Central 261 times, and Illinois Central has been unable to supply buses 32 percent of the time, according to District 208 superintendent Kevin Skinkis.
On its website, Illinois Central claims to be the fifth-largest school bus company in the nation.
“Illinois Central didn’t have enough drivers for about four weeks in October,” said the school’s interim chief financial officer, Tim McGinnis.
In every case but the January cheerleading meet and the freshmen football game, Illinois Central let school officials know ahead of time when they couldn’t fulfill an order. Whenever that happened, RBHS called its previous bus company, First Student, to step in.
Illinois Central is obligated to reimburse District 208 the cost of hiring another company, but Illinois Central has been slow in doing so, school officials have said. Finally, on Friday, an Illinois Central official told McGinnis that a check was on the way and gave McGinnis a check number. RBHS was owed about $6,000 for money it spent using another company’s buses.
District 208 expected to save between $40,000 to $50,000 by hiring Illinois Central in 2010 after a competitive bidding process. Skinkis said he will continue to monitor the service the school is getting from Illinois Central.
“We need to monitor the situation very closely,” Skinkis said. “The communication has been open with Illinois Central, and they’re making efforts to communicate with us. We need to make sure we’re getting our students to their desired locations on time and safely. If Illinois Central can’t guarantee us that then we might have to look to go outside of that, but for right now the goal is to work with Illinois Central.”
Calls to Patrick McCarthy, Illinois Central’s director of customer and community relations, were not returned prior to press time.