La Crosse School District changes bus providers, worrying current drivers

The school district of La Crosse is changing directions when it comes to student transportation.      

School officials decided to end their five year contract with First Student Bus Company early and replace them with a company called Go Riteway.

Go Riteway is a family operated business out of Germantown, Wisconsin, which is near Milwaukee. The company’s first day on the job will be July 1, which means First Student will finish out the school year.

La Crosse School District Superintendent Randy Nelson said now is the right time to make a change. However, the current bus drivers aren’t as sure about their future.

“I get to the bus barn at 5:40 in the morning and then we are leaving by six,” said Heidi Devine, First Student bus driver.

“I am on the bus 10 to six in the morning,” said Raelynn Brown, First Student bus driver.

Devine and Brown aren’t strangers to an early wake-up call. Together they have almost three decades of experience driving a school bus but both of them said it’s worth it because of who they get to see every day.

“I do it not for the pay but for the children, I love my kids on the bus,” said Devine.

“I love my kids and the reason I started was because it was a family friendly job,” said Brown.

However, come July 1 that may not be the case anymore because the school district is terminating its contract with First Student Bus Company.

“The challenges we had in the fall when the school year began served as an impetus to look at options and look at other opportunities from other providers,” said Nelson.

Back in September, a new bus route system was put into place, but it led to delays and missed stops.

“We were getting late and kids were left behind. We were spending hours and hours looking for students and it was being blamed on us, but we were just doing what we were told to do,” said Devine.

“We are certainly disappointed but our focus remains steadfast, we have a great team in La Crosse and we are committed to providing safe reliable service through the remaining of the school year,” said Chris Kemper, First Student.

“It’s a scary situation for all of us drivers because we are faced with not having jobs,” said Devine.

However, the new bus company, Go Riteway Transportation Group, is hoping to hire drivers locally.

“Everyone that currently is driving we would love and welcome them to apply with us,” said Wendy Bast, VP of Compliance with Go Riteway. “As you drive you get to know the kids and you want to keep driving for them, whether it’s elementary through high school, so we want to bring on as many people as want to come over.”

Devine and Brown are used to bumps in the road but they are hoping it’s a smooth transition.

“We hope this company is going to be good to us,” said Devine.

“Twelve years of these kids and they become family. We see them every day. We take trips and we take them on trips, it’s awesome,” said Brown.

It will be a 10-year contract with Go Riteway Transportation Group. Nelson said it’s a lengthy contract because the bus company is going to be putting a lot of money into it. Go Riteway currently doesn’t have a building in La Crosse so in the next couple of weeks, the owners are going to be in town searching for a home base and then they will start hiring locally.

The change in busing companies will cost more money. Right now the school district spends about $1.8 million a year on transportation and that is expected to increase by about $600,000 a year. However, the taxpayers will not be paying for the increase up front. The district will pay for it with money from its annual operating budget.