The relationship between the schools in the town of Lorain and the bus company it hired this spring to transport the students has got off to a good start.
In April, schools in the city of Lorain elected to hire Auxilio Services for bus students for the 2022-23 school year, replacing First Student, which had held the contract for the previous 23 years.
“I can’t tell you the exact number,” Lorain City Schools Superintendent Jeff Graham said. “They both outbid and Auxilio was considerably less.”
But with the start of the new school year approaching, district officials were shaken when they learned earlier this week that many buses in the Auxilio fleet were struggling to get certified by state safety inspectors. .
In response, at an emergency Board of Education meeting on Aug. 3, members approved a resolution to spend $2.4 million on new ABC Transit buses and vans to transport students. of the district if Auxilio is not ready to do so when the transportation year begins on August 1. 15.
Graham said the district is also working on a plan to hire its own drivers.
The board opted to purchase the new fleet a day after many of the 41 buses in Auxilio’s fleet failed a safety inspection by the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
At that same meeting, Auxilio President Ed Dillon discussed the problems his company was having getting the buses ready for the school year while promising that the company would have them ready in time for the start of classes.
“We’re not failing,” Dillon told board members and Graham. “We are getting there.
“Our promise is to run on the first day of school.”
Graham and the board apparently weren’t sold.
“We have a contract,” Graham said. “We expect to honor the contract.
“But we also have a responsibility to get our kids to school, and we felt we needed a plan B.”
Auxilio, according to its website, began operations in 2012.
It currently operates buses in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana.
Dillon said many buses failed because of a “little little blurb” in state safety regulations that Auxilio was unaware of.
The seats and the material used to cover the seats were the source of the problems, he said.
Many buses in Auxilio’s fleet lacked the fire-retardant material that was supposed to be on the bottom of the seats, causing the buses to fail safety inspection, Dillon said.
Auxilio went ahead and purchased the equipment and needed to have it installed in time for the buses to pass another inspection and be ready for the road when classes begin.
“We will be ready to go on the 15th (August) and the 15th is the day we arrange (transportation) for the charter schools,” Dillion said.
Special buttons were to be installed on other buses to allow drivers to activate lights and a stop sign on the buses.
Dillon assured the board that his company would have enough mechanics and staff to make sure all repairs were done to get the buses ready for school.
“We will do it,” he said.
Auxilio has hired enough drivers to fill what should be 40 routes, Dillon said.
He said he expects 35 to 37 drivers to be available by the start of the school year.
Auxilio pays its drivers $24 an hour to attract labor, said Dillon, who noted that he had recently heard a news report that the nation’s transportation industry is experiencing a million dollar shortage. of drivers.
Dillon, who spoke almost nonstop for 30 minutes during his presentation, made cryptic references to rumors he said were circulating in the community that his company would not be able to provide transportation for students at the start. of the school year.
Graham said he didn’t know what Dillion was talking about regarding the rumors and not working together.
“You’d have to ask him,” Graham said.
Dillon also expressed the impression that the district and his company were working against each other.
“I feel like we’re working at two opposite ends,” he said. “And I would like us to work together.”
Graham said many of the problems stem from the fact that Auxilio has purchased many buses that he will use to transport out-of-state students.
“And each state has its own school bus requirements,” he said. “Those in Ohio are much stricter than other states.”
Graham said the situation is fluid at this point and no decision has been made by the district on whether or not he will retain Auxilio.
He said there were a lot of factors at play.
One factor is how long it will take for the district to hire its own drivers and plan routes to operate the buses.
How quickly Auxilio can get its buses through state safety inspectors is another.
“It’s kind of a balance between those two plays,” Graham said.