UPDATE: First Student apologizes for Wausau bus cancellations, vows reforms

First student wausau

First Student, which the Wausau School District contracts with to bus district children, sent an apology last week to families for delays and route cancelations. That came with promises to fix the situation. 

And after a weekend of planning, the school district says the first day after the changes didn’t go perfectly, but that the new system is an improvement.

Wausau School District Superintendent Keith Hilts first addressed the situation Wednesday at a community discussion on the district’s potential plans to consolidate its buildings. Hilts told families there they would be getting a communication from the district over the bus routes. He said that First Student would be working over the weekend to address the Wausau busing issues. 

The district since the start of the school year has experienced delays and route cancelations because of a lack of bus drivers. Wausau’s Metro Ride service has had the same problem finding bus drivers. The district said in an email Monday afternoon said while the company is experiencing driver shortages nationwide, they seem to be worse in Wausau.

The delays and cancellations have frustrated district parents.

Full text of the apology from First Student to Wausau families

Here’s the full text of the apology parents received last week:

Dear Wausau School District Community:

On behalf of the First Student team here in Wausau, I would like to personally apologize for our service interruptions.  Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to staff to the level of dedicated routes necessary to cover your students’ transportation needs this year.  Our corps of drivers have been dedicated in their efforts to bring our students to school. Despite their best efforts, the.routes we had set up at the beginning of the year are not conducive to the number of available drivers within the. district. Training is long, regulations are many, and compliant drivers willing to complete the course are few. On  average, it takes 45-50 hours to train a new driver. Making matters worse, we need to use our trainers to run routes throughout the school day. That cuts valuable time away from each new trainee.

Our proposal is to re-evaluate every route as it is now. On Saturday, 11/19/22, we will bring together a team of drivers and planners to cut out inefficiencies and lost transportation opportunities; strengthening the service level you receive. What will it look like on Monday, 11/21/22? We expect time changes for some stops. In addition, some buses will have additional students in them. Transfer points may change, or simply end. Many of your students and drivers have been identifying these inefficiencies over the years, and we acknowledge the time for effective change is now.

As we work together to provide the best solution, please be reminded that our goal is to get every student a ride to, and from, school. Change can be daunting, but as evidenced by our performance this year, it needs to be done – and quickly. Parents and administrators can expect to be receiving communications via First View, and phone calls (please review your voicemail for important updates) over the weekend if routes have been changed. We know you’ve given us a lot of grace this year already, but please keep an open mind to the changes. We intend to re-evaluate the route changes, and your feedback, going into the Thanksgiving Holiday – which will allow us to update and make any necessary improvements from there.

Again, we apologize for our service interruptions and we are excited about the improvements and improved service to you in the days and weeks ahead.

Scott Anderson
First StudentWausau LM #20745

The district sent an email to families Monday:

Good afternoon, Wausau School District Staff and Families,

First, we just want to say thank you for your patience this morning as First Student’s bus drivers tried out some new routes.  We know things didn’t go perfectly as planned and that some adjustments need to be made going forward.   

That said, we would also like to give you some insight into the efforts First Student made over the weekend.  Because of a bus driver shortage that is happening all over the nation, but seems to be worse in Wausau, First Student and the Wausau School District mutually agreed to rebuild bus routes. The strategy going into that process was to eliminate or dramatically reduce route cancellations.  In order for that to happen, the compromise is slightly longer bus rides, more students on buses, and, in some cases, late arrivals.  We know this isn’t ideal for you and your students, either – but it is allowing our yellow buses to get your students to school.  Please know, we are so grateful for your continued flexibility and patience.  It has meant so much to us during this tough year for busing.  

 First Student will be making some adjustments in the coming days to these new routes.  Any changes will be communicated by First Student. We are confident that these re-worked routes, when perfected, will make all of the difference for the students, and their families, who rely on these buses to get to and from school.  This will get better.

If you, or someone you know, is interested in becoming a First Student bus driver, please call 715-842-2268.

Thank you,

Wausau School District Administration