Category Archives: School.Bus

Emails Reveal Mechanical Issues on Board First Student Buses, Fresno Mom Fears for Child’s Safety

Source: Angela Greenwood, YourCentralValley.com, March 8, 2017

Eyewitness News investigates safety concerns surrounding special education transportation within Fresno Unified. First Student buses transport all special needs kids within the district. Following a bus fire back in September, Eyewitness News began looking closely at the bus company, uncovering email correspondence that reveal a history of multiple mechanical issues. … Following an Eyewitness News Investigation into a First sSudent bus that caught fire while transporting two disabled students in September, we were contacted by parents claiming the air conditioners on their child’s buses were broken. We also received a picture from two different people claiming to be former and current first student bus drivers of a bus completely engulfed in flames at Rio Vista and Manning on the outskirts of Reedley. .

.. Emails that we obtained through a public record’s request when we first began looking more closely at the bus company. The emails are between Fresno Unified transportation and special education officials and staff as well as First Student management. Three months of correspondence from August of 2016 to October of 2016, reveal nearly 200 exchanges and dozens of concerns. In one email, a Fresno Unified staff member says a driver picked up students but then returned minutes later because the air conditioner wasn’t working. The email went onto to say the same bus had the same problem the day before and according to the driver, maintenance couldn’t find the issue. The very next day, a concerned principal mentions that very bus transports four students who have seizure disorders and reminds that heat induces seizures. … Claims of other mechanical issues also brought up. Twice in one week, the wheelchair lifts on a bus were allegedly broken. In another email, a principal claims it took one bus more than an hour to turn it’s engine over. …

Two Face Charges After Missing Teen Found In New Rochelle

Source: Zak Failla, New Rochelle Daily Voice, March 6, 2017

Two were arrested in New Rochelle over the weekend after “purposely misleading” police during an “exhaustive search” for a missing autistic teenager, authorities said. Shortly after midnight on Saturday, March 4, police received a call from a mother reporting that her 16-year-old child, who has special needs, had gone missing after he was supposed to be dropped off by Mount Vernon-based First Student Inc. Bus hours earlier following an event in New Rochelle that he attends regularly. … Police stated that “it became apparent that numerous safety procedures violated placing the child at risk and that New Rochelle Police Department had been purposely misled with false information, placing the child at substantial risk of harm, delaying and delaying and misdirecting search efforts.” …

Inside Celerity charter school network, questionable spending and potential conflicts of interest abound

Source: Anna M. Phillips and Adam Elmahrek, Los Angeles Times, March 6, 2017

… [Celerity Education Group founder Vielka] McFarlane was prospering, and it showed. She wore Armani suits, ate at expensive restaurants and used a black car service. Financial records obtained by The Times show that, as Celerity’s CEO, she paid for many of these expenses with a credit card belonging to her charter schools, which receive the bulk of their funding from the state. … At a time when charter school advocates are determined to increase the number of such schools in L.A., the story of McFarlane and the Celerity schools offers a case study of the growing difficulty of regulating them. The task of spotting and stamping out risky financial practices in charters largely falls to the school district’s charter schools division, which employs about a dozen people dedicated to monitoring the schools’ fiscal health. But as the number of L.A. charter schools has grown to more than 220, enrolling about 111,000 students, oversight has become a challenge for district officials, who are at once competitors and regulators. … In 2015, McFarlane became the CEO of Celerity Global, an organization that took in millions of dollars in management fees from Celerity’s schools. But Global wasn’t just supporting the schools; it had the power to control Celerity Educational and could appoint and remove the school network’s board members. It also served as a shield. In documents laying out their findings, L.A. Unified officials complained that McFarlane and her staff repeatedly rebuffed the district’s requests for information and acted in ways “designed to reduce, or eliminate, transparency.” … Records obtained by The Times offer some insight into why the Celerity network has drawn federal attention. They show years of questionable spending and potential conflicts of interest over a period of time when former teachers said the schools lacked basic supplies and often leaned on students to fundraise. …

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Federal agents raid Los Angeles charter school network
Source: Anna M. Phillips, Howard Blume and Matt Hamilton, Los Angeles Times, January 25, 2017

Federal agents raided the offices of a network of Los Angeles charter schools Wednesday as part of an ongoing investigation into allegations of fraud and fiscal mismanagement. The charter organization, Celerity Educational Group, opened its first L.A. school more than a decade ago, but it has recently drawn the scrutiny of the inspector general of the Los Angeles Unified School District and the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles. It currently manages seven schools in Southern California, and has ties to four more in Louisiana, all of which are publicly funded but privately operated and exempt from many of the regulations that govern traditional schools. … Holmquist added that it is his understanding that the focus of the investigation is not Celerity’s schools, but the Celerity organization that manages them, as well as businesses that have relationships with the charter group. … The first signs that Celerity and its Los Angeles schools might be in trouble came in 2015. The organization had petitioned L.A. Unified to allow it to open two new charter schools, an application process it had gone through successfully several times before. But this time, L.A. Unified’s school board said no. School district officials raised new concerns over the charter school organization’s finances and its complex governance structure. In their final report, in which they advised board members to reject the group’s charter petition, they accused Celerity’s leaders of unorthodox fiscal practices, such as borrowing money from one school in order to pay another schools’ bills, spending money on expenses unrelated to the school and commingling the organization’s finances with those of separate legal entities. …

School District investigation shows failed charter school bus inspections
Source: Jim Spiewak, NBC2, June 1, 2015

Back in April dozens of students escaped a bus after it caught fire – a quick thinking bus driver saving their lives. Now we know the company that operated that bus — had eleven other buses fail inspection. The reports obtained by NBC2 show emergency equipment that didn’t work, gauges and wipers that were out of service and front and back breaks that needed replacing. Academy Transport owns those buses. It was hired by Celerity Education Group – which runs three Charter Schools in Lee County. The report of the bus that caught fire still has not been produced. These are not District owned or maintained buses. Charter schools contract with private bus companies to take kids to and from school. Since the beginning of April, Celerity, has avoided providing us with bus inspection reports. ….

NBC-2.com WBBH News for Fort Myers, Cape Coral

Ishpeming won’t privatize busing

Source: Jerry Tudor, WLUC TV6, March 17, 2017

After plenty of discussion and deliberation the Ishpeming School District has decided not to privatize its busing operations. Talks began about nine months ago, and one company did a presentation during a school board meeting explaining their interest. The deadline for proposals was March 1st. Since that time, school officials discussed and researched the proposal and determined it wouldn’t be in the school’s best financial interest. … Bus drivers in Ishpeming will remain in their current contracts and will continue at the same pay rate. …

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Community unites against privatizing transportation in local school district
Source: Chelsea Birdsall, ABC 10, February 23, 2017

With a deficit in its budget, the Ishpeming Public School District has been looking for ways to cut the budget to leave more money for education. One idea going through the Board of Education is privatizing the busing system for the district. Rallying against the idea, community members came to voice their opinion against privatization. Dressed in black and adorned with yellow buttons, over fifty community members were in attendance at Wednesday night’s Ishpeming Board of Education Meeting. The hot topic of discussion was whether or not the district should privatize transportation in order to satisfy a more balanced budget. According to Superintendent Carrie Meyers, the Department of Treasury has inquired about the fiscal state of the district, and while it hasn’t been determined to be under fiscal stress quite yet, they’re looking for ways to avoid it without affecting students in the classroom. Over the last year, the board has mulled over the concept of privatization and has heard a handful of presentations from potential candidates while launching their own investigation into the matter.

Ishpeming School Board weighs privatization of busing
Source: Lisa Bowers, Mining Journal, November 22, 2016

The Ishpeming School Board is considering privatization of its busing system as a potential cost saving measure. The board heard a presentation from Dean Transportation, a company out of the Lansing area, and Checker Transport of Marquette. Dean Transportation representative Patrick Dean said his company currently partners with 125 different school districts in the Lower Peninsula in 35 locations with approximately 1,400 school busses. The company provides a variety of services including general education transportation, regional special education transportation, field trips, driver support services and transportation management services, Dean said. … Dean Transportation will work in concert with Checker Transport of Marquette. Checker currently provides busing services for North Star Academy. … According to its website, Lamers Bus Lines Inc. offers services in locations throughout the state of Wisconsin, one in Florida and one in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Lamers currently provides busing services to the Calumet – Laurium District Schools, Houghton Public Schools and Hancock Public Schools. Betty Mongiat, who has been a bus driver in the Ishpeming School district for 29 years, said she had concerns about how a private company would handle day-to-day problems with the buses. … IPS Superintendent Carrie Meyer said the presentations were just the first step in the process. “We are just in the preliminary stages with looking at privatizing busing,” Meyer said. She said she is in the process of creating a request for proposals that will include information about the buses the district has and the routes they cover. Meyer said she expects the RFP to be ready to go before the Finance Committee in December. The Finance Committee will then make a recommendation to the school board as to whether or not to send out the RFP and then post for bids. …

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Woodmore bus crash: Can county turn back clock on bus privatization?

Source: Zack Peterson, Times Free Press, December 31, 2016

Green belongs to an old guard of local drivers who have largely been phased out of work since Hamilton County brought in its first private transportation company nearly 15 years ago. That 84-person group has dwindled to 49, he said. … They remember a prophetic report in 2001 warning school board members of the safety and accountability concerns that private companies bring. They remember the school board claiming it could save $1 million on a switch. And everyone will always remember Nov. 21, when a 24-year-old Durham School Services bus driver swerved into a utility pole and a tree with 37 Woodmore Elementary children onboard. … Now, as Green sits on his bus, he wonders whether the county could abandon Durham and return to a more robust system of local contractors that he believes is safer. … To understand the transportation arrangement, you have to go back to 1997, when Jesse Register came to oversee the merger of Chattanooga and Hamilton County schools as superintendent. For years, the separate county and city systems had developed different transportation arrangements. While the city had purchased a bus fleet and hired its own drivers over the years, the county had signed contracts with 84 independent owners like Green. After spending the first few years on magnet school programs and rezoning, Register turned his eye to transportation in 2001 and reached a difficult conclusion: It was too expensive to let both systems continue operating side by side. … Since there had been no tax increase and the district depended on funding from the County Commission, Register said he and other school board members moved to convert to one private transportation firm. After putting out feelers, three bids came in from Durham School Services, First Student and Laidlaw. The school board wanted to keep local contractors in the picture, Register said, in effect creating one private company in addition to the 84 drivers who already existed. … Over time, as local contractors have retired or grown too old, their routes have kicked over to the private company in place. The county struck a four-year deal with First Student in 2002, which ended four years later when school board members said they wanted a stronger contract to make the next private busing company more accountable to them, archives show. Durham won the next contract in 2007. Local contractors pushed back on the changes, and during the 2001 bidding process they took their concerns to attorney Tracy Wooden, who recounted their concerns about losing their livelihood under a privatized system in a 30-page report. …

… There’s talk of this contract because community members and some officials have expressed concerns about communication and accountability in light of the Woodmore crash. CEO David Duke told the Times Free Press earlier this month Durham only received two complaints against 24-year-old Johnthony Walker over speeding before the crash. Afterward, Hamilton County Schools released more than 30 pages of complaints and correspondence about Walker, including handwritten letters from students and a parent citing the driver’s speeding and recklessness. But Durham, which provides the majority of the county’s 250 buses and drivers, didn’t receive several of them, Duke said. …

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Exclusive: Tennessee State Senator Calls for Hearings on School Bus Privatization
Source: Mike Elk, Pay Day Report, November 29, 2016

In the wake of a tragic school bus accident in Chattanooga that left 6 children dead, many are seeking for ways to reform the current system that allows school districts to outsource busing to privatized companies. An investigative report by Payday Report first revealed that Durham School Services had a long history of worker intimidation, safety violations, and low wages, which some say make it difficult to attract qualified drivers. Now, following Payday’s reporting, State Senator Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville), the Chairman of Senate Democratic Caucus, is calling for the State Senate to convene hearings on the danger of outsourcing school bus services. … Yarbo’s call comes as Republican Governor Bill Haslam has also called for examining the safety risks of outsourcing school bus services to private companies. … Its unclear if Haslam intends to push legislation to address school bus privatization. However, Haslam is increasingly facing calls to pay school bus drivers better and ensure that contractors hold contractors accountable for safety violations. According to federal safety data, Durham School Services has been involved in 346 crashes in the past two years. These accidents have resulted in 142 injuries and 3 fatalities. During that same time period, the company was cited 53 times for “unsafe driving conditions”.  According to data compiled by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, “93% of motor carriers in the same safety event group have better on-road performance” than Durham. …

Tennessee Governor Says Outsourcing Buses Needs To Be Reassessed After Chattanooga Crash
Source: Chas Sisk, Nashville Public Radio, November 28, 2016

After last week’s school bus crash in Chattanooga, Governor Bill Haslam says Tennessee’s leaders need to reassess how to use private companies to operate buses. Emails show administrators were warned about the driver of the bus months ago. The accident has claimed six lives, and Haslam says it appears to be a sign of deeper problems. … One big question is why 24-year-old Johnthony Walker was driving a school bus. Parents, teachers, even the kids themselves had complained he was dangerous behind the wheel. Walker was said to be unrepentant when criticized about his driving, but because he was employed by a private bus contractor, administrators say their options for dealing with him were limited. Haslam seems to be saying districts should get more power to discipline drivers. He stops short of saying outsourcing is a bad idea in all circumstances.

Miami-Dade union leaders fear more outsourcing of members’ work at district schools

Source: William Gjebre, Florida Bulldog, January 3, 2017

The Miami-Dade School Board has agreed to spend up to $1.8 million to outsource lawn service maintenance long done by unionized workers, and union leaders now say they fear Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is eyeing more privatization that could lead to additional work cuts for its members. The two, five-year outsourcing contracts stand to eliminate tasks generally assigned to maintenance workers and custodians represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Local 1184. … District officials did not respond to calls for comment on the issue, so reasons for the outsourcing were unknown, including whether they claim it was for cost reasons. Carvalho also would not discuss the matter when a reporter attempted to talk with him at the Dec. 14 board meeting. … Union officials Hall and Haynes complained that in recent years district officials have taken the position that outsourcing is a management right that can be invoked unilaterally and they do not have to confer with the union. But Haynes said the district is overlooking a ruling in a case years ago in which the union prevailed in arbitration. The ruling in that matter stated the district had to notify the union if it sought to outsource work that could be performed by union employees and the parties had to negotiate the impact of the proposed work. If the parties did not come to an agreement, the union could move ahead with arbitration. After that case, the district generally followed that ruling, until recently, Haynes said, adding the two contracts are indicative of the district’s changing policy. The first of the two contracts was approved by the School Board on Nov. 18, 2015 for up to five years for 11 companies to provide lawn service totaling up to $1 million. The type of work includes tree, palm and shrub trimming, pruning and stump removal, according to board records. The contract was approved two days after the union withdrew a grievance and the request for arbitration. The union had filed the grievance in June 2014 after discovering that a private firm was doing lawn service work at Krop Senior High School in North Dade. … The other contract, for up to five years, was approved by the School Board on Feb. 3, 2016. Thomas Maintenance Service will be paid up to $800,000 to mow vacant lots and clear fence lines.

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Miami-Dade School Board votes down transportation outsourcing study, upholds firing of party teacher
Source: David Smiley, Miami Herald, October 16, 2013

Amid protests from hundreds of bus drivers and aides, the Miami-Dade School Board on Wednesday voted down a controversial proposed transportation outsourcing study.

Board members voted 8 to 1 against the proposal from Carlos Curbelo, who stressed that he was only asking for a study, of which the results weren’t predetermined. But his colleagues said the district already knows its transportation costs — down to $69 million from about $83 million three years ago — are by comparison less than Duval County’s privatized services….

Dade school bus drivers protest vote on outsourcing study
Source: David Smiley, Miami Herald, October 15, 2013

A study that could lay the groundwork for the outsourcing of Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ $69 million transportation department could bring throngs of bus drivers and aides to Wednesday’s School Board meeting. Some disgruntled drivers staged a small protest Tuesday at a school bus depot in North Central Miami-Dade, saying they were frustrated that the school board is talking about outsourcing on the heels of the district coming to a tentative $70 million agreement for teacher raises…

Local school bus drivers upset over budget cuts
Source: WSVN, October 15, 2013

South Florida school bus drivers are mad as the district plans to out-source transportation as a means to cut costs. Bus drivers are coming together to protest as the school district looks to privatizing its fleet of school buses and transportation employees….

Miami-Dade Schools may explore outsourcing transportation
Source: David Smiley, Miami Herald, October 9, 2013

The Miami-Dade school district may look to privatize its vast fleet of school buses and transportation employees. Board Member Carlos Curbelo believes the district can push savings into the classroom by possibly outsourcing the district’s fleet of 1,300 buses and approximately 1,700 bus drivers and aides. He also wants the district to explore whether money can be saved through other options, like crafting a public/private partnership or by simply altering its current busing model. … Curbelo said the proposal isn’t a criticism of the district’s transportation department, but a move to find classroom money without raising taxes or relying on state funds. … Should Curbelo’s proposal pass as currently written next week, the district would issue a request for information from private vendors to gauge interest in the private sector. Curbelo said he’d like to see the district’s report in about 60 days, and he’s open to the possibility that the district might say it is better off continuing to run its own transportation system. …

Rep. Jim Merrill took bus company payments while promoting school fleet privatization

Source: Paul Bowers, Post and Courier, December 17, 2016

When Berkeley County Republican state Rep. Jim Merrill introduced a bill in 2012 to privatize the state school bus fleet, the bus management company Student Transportation of America was quietly paying him to help promote its services. The bill came at a time when school leaders around the state — and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — were reckoning with one of the oldest, most polluting, least reliable bus fleets in the country. It also came at a time when STA says it was paying Merrill, who runs consulting firm Geechie Communications, at least $3,000 a month to help write business proposals to school districts across the Southeast. … While Merrill was indicted last week on 30 ethics and corruption-related charges, one portion of the complaint against him highlights what many see as a continual state problem with getting students to schools. South Carolina is the only state in the U.S. that owns and maintains buses for most of its school districts. The fleet is long overdue for replacement after decades of underfunding by state lawmakers, and the average bus on the fleet is now 15-and-a-half years old with 236,000 miles on the odometer. While the state owns and maintains more than 5,600 buses, some districts with the means to do so have begun buying their own buses to avoid reliability issues. Districts are also responsible for providing bus drivers, in many cases contracting out to companies like Durham School Services in Charleston County. … In stark contrast to the state fleet, STA says the 13,000 buses in its national fleet average just under 6 years old. The company put in a bid to provide bus services for the Charleston County School District in 2015, but it refused to use state buses, proposing instead that the district lease 370 new buses from the company. STA lost out when the district renewed its contract with Durham. …

Upper Merion school board OKs move to outsource busing operations

Source: Oscar Gamble, Daily Times, December 7, 2016

The school board voted 6-3 Monday to turn over busing operations and sell its fleet of school buses to national transportation provider First Student. About 100 residents attended the meeting, which was held in the auditorium in anticipation of a larger-than-usual turnout. The almost four-hour-long meeting was, at times, contentious, with many residents and bus drivers vocally airing their dissent with the board’s imminent decision, which came around 11:30 p.m. Eric Elvanian, who was elected board president at a reorganization session prior to the main meeting, said he was happy to see the community’s interest and encouraged attendees to come to more school board meetings. … He called the idea that the district would be losing control of the busing system a “myth” and assured residents that every effort was being made to ensure that the same routes would be driven by the same drivers, whom First Student would be contractually obligated to hire. … Elvanian also pointed out at that the district’s projected $500,000 annual savings from outsourcing the bus contract would go toward all-day kindergarten. Following Elvanian’s remarks, First Student’s Regional Director of Business Development Jim Woods took to the podium to talk mainly about safety. Woods said First Student is the “safest company in the industry” and exceeds state safety standards. He cited driver background checks, vehicle tracking, daily inspection of buses using handheld computers and on-board safety features as some of the reasons why. Public comments began after Woods’ statement, with several residents voicing their displeasure with what many perceived as the board’s foregone decision to go with First Student. … Several parents expressed their concern that the contract with First Student — which would switch drivers’ retirement plans from the Pennsylvania School Employee’s Retirement System to 401(k) accounts— would hurt retention of drivers they and their children have grown to rely on. … A vitriolic exchange erupted when drivers argued that their union president, Michael Bonaduce of Teamsters Local 348, misrepresented the repercussions of not voting to accept an interim contract — which was ultimately signed and ratified — by allegedly threatening that drivers who didn’t sign it would revert to the lowest rate offered by First Student. … When it was time to vote, each of the board members shared remarks explaining their decision. Several board members pointed out that they had been attacked on social media in the days leading up to the vote and were discouraged by the tone of the discourse surrounding their deliberations. Thad Radzanowski, who upheld a campaign pledge not to outsource by voting “no” said he almost changed his vote after witnessing the disrespect shown to District Superintendent Dr. John Toleno and his fellow board members. Board member Maura Buri cited several reasons — including chronic bus lateness and an incident in which a child was left unattended after getting off a school bus — for her “yes” vote. Buri, who had previously voted against outsourcing because, she said, it would have adversely affected drivers financially, said she found it offensive that some members of the community thought a vote to outsource meant that the board did not care about the district’s children. An emotional Maggie Phillips said she voted “yes,” in part, because she believed that a contract represented the best deal for the drivers because the district would not be able to sustain the busing contract into the foreseeable future. …

Members of the First Student bus union threaten to strike Thursday morning

Source: Gina Marini, NH1, November 14, 2016

Parents across the state could be scrambling to find their children rides to school this week as bus drivers threaten to strike. Buses were screeching to a halt as they arrived to schools this afternoon picking kids up to bring them home, but as early as Thursday morning, workers of the First Student bus union say they might strike. “They first sent out an email notification to parents on Nov. 3 just to notify them of a potential work-stoppage,” said Michael Tori, Superintendent of Belmont schools. First Student told NH1 News, “There is a labor dispute out of Belmont right now. We’re actively working with the union to solve that.” If the strike does happen, it will directly affect schools across the state. Some of those schools are in Canterbury, Alton, Gilford, Laconia, and Belmont. Superintendent Tori says he has a plan in place. …

Trenton schools shot down for trying to privatize aides at another district

Source: David Foster, The Trentonian, October 4, 2016

It’s bad enough the capital city school district privatized its own aides, resulting in hundreds of layoffs the past two years and disorganization within the special education department. But when the district tried to send contracted aides to another district, the state Department of Education put its foot down. According to a Sept. 20 DOE commissioner decision, Trenton lost an appeal to provide contracted aides to the Mercer County Special Services School District (MCSSSD) for special education students the capital city district places at MCSSSD. Trenton sought to implement the plan for the 2015-16 school year to reduce operating costs, but MCSSSD, which specializes in education for children with special needs, refused to allow it, leading to the state decision. … MCSSSD’s aides are district employees unlike Trenton, which outsources its aides. Whitfield has filed numerous special education complaints against Trenton within the past year. The advocate said the district cannot fill the number of paraprofessionals required for students’ Individualized Education Plans (IEP) this year and is currently out of compliance. … This year’s budget was criticized for being discriminatory toward children with special needs with many cuts targeting paraprofessionals and specialists. For the second year in a row, Trenton public schools slashed hundreds of jobs, privatized paraprofessionals and closed a school. Most recently, the Trenton chapter of the NAACP called out civil rights violations for the district’s students with special needs. …

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Union fears privatization in Trenton schools unlikely to stop
Source: Matt Fair, The Times of Trenton, November 28, 2011

First they came for the district’s cafeteria workers, then for its security staff and bus drivers. Slowly, over the last three years, Trenton Public Schools has moved toward privatizing parts of its staff to cope with rising employee costs and reductions in state aid….The district came close to outsourcing its custodial staff over the summer, and a private company was brought in several months ago to assume some of the responsibilities of in-house paraprofessionals who assist teachers who work with special education students and pupils with medical conditions….Mission One Educational Staffing Services was awarded a contract in September to provide paraprofessionals….Meanwhile, Mission One’s sister company, Source 4 Teachers, last month was awarded a contract to provide substitute teachers for the district.