School principals at Proviso East and Proviso West spoke in excited tones recently when details of a proposed busing program in District 209 were unveiled. Currently, students in Proviso Township’s 10 communities must make their own way to one of three public high school campuses, a situation that several district officials said is at least partially responsible for students’ truancy and attendance rates.

“First period is really tough,” Proviso East Principal Milton Patch said of students arriving late for school.

At a school board meeting in late November, a representative of First Student, the transportation company contracted to provide busing, revealed new details of the fledgling program. In early January parents should receive mailings from the district outlining bus routes and where students will be picked up. It is expected that busing will begin Tuesday, Jan. 20.

According to Michael Medin, business development manager for First Student, no more than 20 kids will be collected at each stop. The transportation company is also attempting to locate bus stops so that students will walk no more than two-tenths of a mile for the service. Densely populated neighborhoods in the district, Medin said, make this process a little tricky.

“That makes for an awful lot of stops,” Medin said.

Across the district, Proviso students have an attendance rate of 80 percent, more than 13 percent below statewide averages. At Proviso East the problem is especially acute. The attendance rate for the Maywood school is less than 76 percent, according to Illinois School Report Card data.

District-wide, Proviso’s high schools have a chronic truancy rate of almost 15 percent. Chronic truancy occurs when a student misses at least 18 days of school without a valid reason. By comparison, 2.5 percent of high school students across the state are chronically absent.

Proviso East, again, beats the district and state averages in this category. Almost 29 percent of the students miss at least 10 percent of the school year with unexcused absences, according to the state.

Building principals, as well as the district’s newly-installed superintendent, said they are confident a district-wide busing program will boost attendance. Superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart projected that average daily attendance figures would exceed 90 percent as a result of a transportation program.

Collins-Hart also told board members that ultimately, better attendance will result in better performance.

Up to 80 percent of transportation costs would be reimbursed by the state, according to the superintendent. In August, First Student submitted a bid to provide the services at $3.76 million per year.

The transportation program has long been called for by community members, but never implemented. During a November school board meeting, board members pressed administrators and the transportation agency to ensure students’ safety both on the buses and along the route. Questions centered on how violent altercations between students would be handled, and what authority a bus driver has to quell such outbursts.

“We don’t want any trouble, or cause any eruptions in the neighborhood,” board member Theresa Kelly said.

According to Patch, Maywood police will work with the district and incorporate the bus stops into their patrols.