Bus contractor challenges Nampa’s decision to cut ties after 64 years

The Nampa School District is set to have a new bus contractor next school year, after trustees voted last week to sever its 64-year partnership with Brown Bus Company. 

Brown Bus isn’t going away quietly, however. Operations manager Brent Carpenter said the company has filed an official protest to Nampa’s contract bidding process, which excluded Brown Bus on a technicality. 

On June 11, the Nampa school board awarded a $7.08 million, annual busing contract to First Student, a national chain that works with schools in 39 states. While the Brown Bus proposal was about $650,000 cheaper than the competing offer, it didn’t meet the bid specifications, Cortney Stauffer, Nampa’s director of operations, told trustees during last week’s meeting. 

Nampa School District Director of Operations Cortney Stauffer. Photo: Courtesy, Nampa School District

Brown Bus failed to separate fixed costs from per-route costs, as the school district instructed in its bid for proposals. The bid didn’t qualify under a state law, so Stauffer advised trustees to not consider it. “It was truly our intent to continue a relationship that we’ve had with Brown Bus,” he said, “a relationship we’ve had for many generations.”

The longtime Nampa bus company is disputing the district’s interpretation of the proposal. Carpenter said Brown Bus’ offer was “100% compliant” with the bid specifications, and it should have been considered. “It is well-known that the Nampa School District is looking to save money,” he told the school board this week. “We are, without question, the lowest bidder.”

KTVB first reported Nampa’s decision to select First Student’s bid.

The bidding process started this winter, when school officials began negotiations with Brown Bus to renew its contract, which is expiring this year. Nampa administrators expected a cost increase, but Brown Bus executives came back with a potential increase as high as 24%, according to Superintendent Gregg Russell. “Great concern came to us,” Russell told trustees last week.  

Amid a budget crunch — which led Nampa to close three schools in December — the district could either make additional cuts to afford the nearly $2 million hike or seek out other offers, Russell said. Trustees directed district staff to develop a request for proposals (RFP). 

District staff included in the RFP new cost-saving measures, including creating a transportation manager position and developing an in-house transportation software. Both initiatives will allow the district to collect a higher transportation reimbursement rate from the state, Stauffer said. 

Additionally, the RFP required bidders to break out fixed costs — the baseline monthly rate to contract for bus services, such as maintenance and insurance on buses — from the cost for routes, which can fluctuate. Delineating the fixed expenses would help the district project costs if ridership is unsteady, Stauffer said, as Nampa has seen a decline in bus users in recent years. 

Brown Bus and First Student were the only two bidders, and both came in under the district’s $8 million budget. However, Brown Bus didn’t specify the fixed expenses, and instead factored them into the per-route costs. That made the bid “non-responsive” to the district’s specifications, Stauffer said. 

When school districts and other government entities are seeking paid services, state law requires that they award a contract to “the qualified bidder submitting the lowest bid” that complies with “bidding procedures” and meets “the specifications for the goods and/or services sought.” 

Nampa school board chairman Jeff Kirkman. Photo: Kyle Pfannenstiel/Idaho EdNews

The school board unanimously voted to award First Student the contract, after reviewing both proposals. Bids “need to be complete,” board vice chairman Jeff Kirkman said during last week’s meeting. “We need to know what the costs are going to be as much as possible, especially when we’re trying to fit this within our budget.” 

Meanwhile, Brown Bus leaders are “very confident” that their bid complied with the district’s specifications, Carpenter told Idaho Education News Thursday. And the company has filed a protest with the district. State law allows bidders to challenge a contract award within a week after the government entity notices it. The school district could consider Brown Bus’ challenge in the coming weeks. 

“We’re looking for our opportunity to provide our side of things,” Carpenter said.

He also touted Brown Bus’ reliable history with the district and its ability to be immediately operational, while it will take time and resources to set-up a new bus service provider. “We’ve been here, we got continuity, we got people in place.”

Brown Bus is a subsidiary of a larger chain of bus operators, and school board chairwoman Brook Taylor said that factored into her decision last week. “Both companies are national companies. Not at all that I don’t want to have relationships with people who aren’t local, but it was something that I took into consideration.” 

According to business filings with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office, Brown Bus is registered to Illinois Central School Bus. The national chain recently changed its name to North America Central School Bus and touts itself as the fifth largest school bus operator in North America. 

Still, Brown Bus — which also provides busing for the Vallivue School District and charter schools in Ada County — employs more than 125 people locally, Carpenter said. Many drivers packed into Tuesday’s school board meeting, and one spoke during a public comment period. 

“These are your friends, your neighbors, they are taxpayers in this community,” said Dennis Blanton, who drives a bus for Nampa’s hearing impaired students. “It’s like the rug has been pulled out from under them and myself.”

Ryan Suppe

Ryan Suppe

Senior reporter Ryan Suppe covers education policy, focusing on K-12 schools. He previously reported on state politics, local government and business for newspapers in the Treasure Valley and Eastern Idaho. A Nevada native, Ryan enjoys golf, skiing and movies. Follow him on Twitter: @ryansuppe. Contact him at [email protected]

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