NEWMAN - First Student, the private transportation company which provides bus service for the Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District, has made changes in response to concerns voiced by district leadership.

The company’s drug testing policy and supervision were called into question after a December incident in which a First Student driver was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of a controlled substance while substituting on a Newman-Crows route. The driver, who normally works in another district, was arrested in Diablo Grande after a student rider called 911 from the bus to report that she was driving erratically.

Superintendent Randy Fillpot provided an update to the school board at its Feb. 10 meeting, telling trustees that First Student has been responsive in addressing concerns.

The transportation company was criticized in January for its drug-testing practices. Drivers randomly selected for mandatory drug testing were told to report to a clinic to submit a sample - a practice which trustees said provided opportunity for drivers to sidestep detection.

Fillpot advised the board that First Student is changing its policy to require that a supervisor accompanies drivers selected for drug testing. That eliminates the opportunity for employees to procure a “clean” urine sample from a third party or otherwise subvert the integrity of the testing.

Fillpot said First Student has also made significant changes in supervision of the local area, and its representatives have been meeting with district personnel regularly.

First Student is still in the process of hiring a local manager, Fillpot noted.

“They are doing some interviews later this week and will give us an opportunity to meet with a candidate before they sign on the bottom line,” he said last Wednesday.

Fillpot said the district is interested in a more collaborative partnership with First Student.

“We would like to work with them on partnering on some professional development (on) working with kids,” Fillpot said. “They are also having a hard time finding qualified drivers. We offered that we would be willing to provide a location where they could host a job fair.”

Overall, the superintendent added, communication between the district and First Student has improved significantly.

“We haven’t had any problems. When there is a late bus we are getting notification in a timely fashion,” Fillpot stated. “We’re pretty happy right now with where we’re at.”

Vern Snodderly, who was the most outspoken trustee in criticizing First Student at the January board meeting, said he was satisfied with the company’s changes - but also called for district oversight of First Student’s performance.

Fillpot said in December that the arrest of the bus driver was “disheartening,” and reported that the district’s relationship with First Student would be re-evaluated.

He indicated last week, however, that First Student’s response has largely alleviated his concerns.

“I have my faith restored in their ability to get our kids to and from school in a safe manner,” Fillpot concluded. “The policy changes and employee changes tht they have made are going to be positive.”