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Scappoose School Board approves new busing contract

Contract with Durham School Services effective in July

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - A row of buses sits outside the garage of the First Student garage in Scappoose off Highway 30. The Scappoose School District will not renew its contract with First Student after 35 years of service with the bus company. The Scappoose School District will not be renewing its bus contract with First Student bus services, after contracting with the company for 35 years.

The Scappoose School Board voted unanimously Monday, Feb. 8, to approve a five-year contract with Durham School Services after a two-and-a-half month decision-making process.

At the start of the school year in August, the Scappoose School District introduced a new bus route and schedule designed by First Student to shorten the amount of time students were on the bus. The implementation of the routes caused significant delays and complications for students and parents in the district.

During a school board meeting a few months later, district staff considered looking at other busing options when First Student's contract became eligible for renewal. 

In December, the school district requested proposals from several bus service companies as it re-evaluated the district's longstanding contract with First Student.

The district received proposals in January from three of the four major bus contracting companies in Oregon, including one from First Student. One company pulled its bid before the selection process began in mid-January, Mitch Neilson, the business manager for the Scappoose School District, said.

A selection committee of district staff and one school board member reviewed the two remaining bids in late January before making the decision.

Neilson said the bids were comparable in cost, but far exceeded the cost of services the district had expected. Awarding the contract to Durham would cost nearly $90,000 more than it would to contract with First Student, but the quality of the service looked more promising to the school district, he said.

The bids were evaluated on a series of criteria that included cost of services, safety of students, proven history of service to customers and stability as a business. Each proposal was individually evaluated by a small selection committee of district staff and board members, and ranked based on those criteria.

Phil Lager, a board member who was on the selection committee, said, “Dollars was the last thing on the list I looked at,” adding that student safety and quality of service were top priorities.

“I would hate to go with low bid on something, anyone who's ridden on a school bus with kids for field trips or sporting events, [knows] it's not something you want to go with —quote, unquote — low bid,” Lager said. “So, that $90,000 is absolutely fine with me, in my opinion.”

The contract between the Scappoose School District and Durham Student Services becomes effective July 1. The change in providers will not affect buses during the current school year, Neilson explained. Evaluation of current bus routes and discussion about new routes with the company will be discussed in July when enrollment for the 2016-17 school year is determined.

The St. Helens School District currently contracts with Durham Student Services, and are three years into a five-year contract with the company.