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First Student’s Response to Portland Public Schools Make-Up Days Demonstrates the Benefits of a School Transportation Partnership
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First Student’s Response to Portland Public Schools Make-Up Days Demonstrates the Benefits of a School Transportation Partnership

In response to the recent teacher strike at Portland Public Schools (PPS), the district had to address the issue of 60 hours of lost instructional time. To resolve this, additional days were added to their school calendar, coinciding with winter break. This decision, however, led to complications with the district’s school bus drivers, as their collective bargaining agreement did not require them to work these extra days.

Originally, the 293 school bus routes for PPS were divided between First Student with 117 routes, another transportation provider with 92 routes and the district which operated 90 routes. However, due to driver staffing challenges over the last two years, First Student was awarded 44 of the competitors’ initially contracted routes. This expansion was facilitated by First Student’s robust driver staffing in the region. Given this context, the district reached out to First Student, already a trusted school transportation partner for their support in this situation.

We responded swiftly. Our location managers organized an emergency meeting with their local teams from seven neighboring locations to discuss covering more than 50 additional routes, about 55% of the district’s operated routes, which primarily serve students with special needs. Over 90 First Student drivers sacrificed a portion of their holiday break to ensure safe transportation to a district in need. First Student drivers are passionate. When asked why she volunteered to drive over break, Jennifer Lynn said “I asked to drive in Portland because I truly love what I do. I love the students, I love meeting new students and if I am helping my company, it is a win, win for me.”

Facing less than a week’s preparation, our team arranged buses, special equipment, district-specific training and accommodations for their drivers who volunteered to work. Living our First Student values, safety remained a top priority as Portland’s Location Manager Norah Martin and Assistant Location Manager Santiago Bautista ensured meticulous coordination. Dry runs were quickly organized to familiarize the volunteer drivers from other locations with their temporary routes and equipment, the unique needs of the student passengers and Portland’s district policies.

To ensure smooth operations and anticipate potential challenges of urban navigation and unexpected delays, we strategically positioned an additional 10 field support staff throughout Portland.  “This additional layer of support ensured that, despite the complex logistics and increased workload, our service was reliable and effective,” Area General Manager Justin Cox shared.

This success highlights First Student’s adaptability and commitment to the customers and the communities they serve. First Student Driver, Kayla Phillips said “I volunteered to drive in Portland during the instructional make up week as I believe that all students deserve (and need) full time education.”

“Partnering with First Student means more than just district transportation, it means you have resources and support to face any transportation challenge,” Cox continued. “Our drivers and teams consistently go above and beyond. We care about the safety and well-being of our students and we pull out all the stops to help districts meet their educational goals.” When a district partners with First Student for all, or part, of their school transportation, they gain a collaborative team that shares their goal of caring for students. Working with us also allows districts access to the best people in the industry and a vast network of resources and support. To learn more about First Student’s services, visit this page of our website, or inquire about how a partnership might benefit your district by emailing us at