Nampa confirms decision to cut ties with 64-year bus contractor

The Nampa school board voted Tuesday to confirm its busing contract award, cutting ties with Brown Bus Company, which has bused Nampa students since 1959. 

The board’s unanimous decision followed a four-hour public hearing. Brown Bus leaders argued that the company’s $6.4 million proposal for next school year’s busing contract was the lowest qualified bid, and trustees erred in their previous decision to disqualify it. 

But school district staff and legal counsel advised the board that Brown Bus failed to submit a complete proposal, leaving out key details that would illustrate the total cost. The bid was actually closer to $6.7 million, and Brown Bus’ attempts to clarify the cost came too late in the bidding process, administrators said.   

Tuesday’s vote confirmed the board’s June 11 decision to accept a $7.1 million bid from First Student, a national chain that contracts with schools in 39 states. First Student has a tentative five-year deal with the district. 

“Our hands are kind of tied by the legal specifications of the bidding process,” said trustee Stephanie Binns after a brief executive session to confer with the district’s attorney. The Brown Bus offer was “incomplete” and “didn’t meet the minimum requirements to be a responsive bid.”

Dozens of Brown Bus drivers — wearing bright yellow shirts with the message “I choose Brown Bus” — flooded the Nampa administration building for the board meeting. An overflow viewing room couldn’t hold all the attendees, who spilled out into the hallways of the small district office and watched a video stream of the meeting on their smartphones. Brown Bus employs more than 125 people in the area, according to the company. 

Inside the meeting room, Brown Bus leaders and an attorney representing the company pleaded with the school board to reconsider. They said Nampa’s RFP didn’t clearly spell out what information was required, and that district finance officers could have calculated the potential costs by looking at the current agreement with Brown Bus. 

Unlike First Student, Brown Bus failed to include daily shuttle costs, which added $379,000 to the company’s original bid, and its proposal didn’t separate fixed costs — such as administer salaries and insurance — from variable costs associated with routes, as the RFP requested. 

“We were not trying to be cute,” said Joe Faessler, director of development for North America Central School Bus, Brown Bus’ parent company. “We were not trying to avoid it.”

The Nampa school board deliberates on Brown Bus Company’s protest to losing a transportation contract to a rival bidder. Photo: Ryan Suppe/Idaho EdNews

Idaho law directs school districts to award contracts to “the qualified bidder submitting the lowest bid” that complies with “bidding procedures” and meets “the specifications for the goods and/or services sought.” 

Board vice chairman Jeff Kirkman said trustees couldn’t rely on “assumptions” about the Brown Bus proposal based on its previous relationship with the district. “I’m sorry but my decision is going to be based on legalities.” 

The district’s current five-year contract with Brown Bus expires next month. During initial negotiations to renew the contract, Brown Bus executives called for a 24% increase in costs. That would have been about $9.5 million, according to Deputy Superintendent Waylon Yarbrough. 

Amid a budget crunch, which has led to school closures, trustees directed district staff to seek out other potential transportation offers. Brown Bus and First Student were the only companies to submit bids. 

First Student, meanwhile, is already urging Brown Bus drivers to join its forthcoming fleet — and offering incentives. The company has pledged $1,500 sign-on bonuses to go with $21 hourly wages for new drivers and $26-per-hour for experienced drivers. 

“We take exceedingly good care of our employees, and we plan to take exceedingly good care of Nampa’s current drivers,” Meredith Christiansen, First Student’s director of business development, said during the school board meeting.

Nampa trustee David Jennings was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

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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