Schoenbar Middle School. (KRBD file photo)

The bus company contracted by the Ketchikan School District to take students to and from school was strongly criticized Wednesday by the local school board.

The discussion was sparked by Superintendent Robert Boyle’s announcement that First Student has taken at least one group of visitors on a tour in between school routes, on the first day of school.

Ketchikan School Board members were shocked at the news.

Here’s Matt Eisenhower: “We’re all going, ‘What?’ Can you repeat and clarify? Because I think we all have some safety concerns with what we think we just heard.”

Initially, board members thought Boyle meant that students and tourists were on the bus at the same time. That was not the case. Boyle clarified that the charter tour took place in between morning and afternoon school routes.

Boyle said his concern is whether the bus company is able to separate fuel used for school routes – which the district pays for – versus charter tours. Board member Glenn Brown, who is a relief driver for First Student, said he’s not aware of a way to track fuel use.

Board members agreed that they need some clear answers from the bus company.

The board also discussed general performance problems with First Student. Boyle said they are not fulfilling their contract, because of staffing problems. He says they met this spring to talk about how to fix that, but it was not resolved.

Board Member Michelle O’Brien asked whether the district can amend the contract with First Student, which she said regularly fails to meet its contractual obligations. O’Brien said the company should not be allowed to charter buses when school is in session.

“I don’t have a problem with them chartering those buses outside of the school year,” she said. “But they should be for the exclusive use of the school district because, as you said, Glenn, there’s no way to track that gas. And they’re already having performance issues. You talked about meeting them this spring? Well, I wasn’t on the board this spring but I remember every single year meeting with that bus company about their failure to perform.”

O’Brien is serving temporarily to fill in for a board member who resigned. She served previously on the board.

A call to First Student seeking comment was not returned in time for this report.