SEATTLE – There are many questions surrounding the future of transportation at Seattle Public Schools (SPS) in the 2022-23 school year.
First Student is the current bus vendor for SPS, and it was competing for the district’s latest contract with Zum Services.
Zum Services released a statement on Tuesday announcing it had submitted a formal bid protest to SPS:
“Zum Services has submitted a formal bid protest challenging Seattle Public Schools (SPS) staff’s announcement of their intent to recommend that the SPS Board of Directors award another 5-year student transportation contract to the troubled incumbent vendor, First Student. The protest highlights clear miscalculations in the RFP scoring process and urges SPS staff to update their recommendation to reflect Zum’s scoring advantage. “
In February, FOX 13 reported First Student was facing hundreds of safety violations, which have since been settled with the state.
“They’re committed, for reasons that aren’t clear, to re-signing with a bus vendor that has an extensive record of safety violations,” said parent Mary Ellen Russell. “There are a lot of solutions to these problems, but just staying with the same vendor and insisting you can’t make any changes won’t fix the problems.”
Russell has also been the Chair of the School Traffic Safety Committee which is a city commission that works with SPS and King County Metro on traffic safety issues. Her daughter’s bus route was also one of the 50 that the district suspended at the start of the school year.
“[Zum] already provides service for San Francisco, Oakland and they are taking over the service for the LA School District, the largest school district in the country next year. So they are fully capable of providing all the transportation, “said Russell.” They’ve also been doing a pilot project with SPS this year because the first student has been unable to take on all the routes and is particularly struggling to provide service to students. with disabilities and other special needs. “
In recent weeks, SPS families have been told there could be bell time changes starting next school year, but in recent days SPS has decided to take a break.
School officials were proposing to change the current two-tier start times to three-tier start times to address the nationwide bus driver shortage. On its website, the district said by moving to a three-tier system, it would allow drivers to pick up more routes and reduce the number of drivers needed.
However, after hearing feedback from families, school officials said they were “slowing down the decision-making process” to identify ways to address the concerns that were raised.
Andrew Cooper is a parent of a kindergartener and second-grader at SPS and shared testimony at the last SPS Board meeting advocating for transparency and data-driven decision-making.
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Using data from the State Superintendent’s Office and the US Census Bureau, Cooper created an “SPS Start Times Exploration Tool” to help families examine the impact of the proposed bell changes may have on students.
“The problem is SPS didn’t actually show us the range of options they looked at. Then, it may be that what they actually chose was the best option and most equitable, but we can’t see that. It just bothers me when organizations claim to be basing decisions on equity but then don’t defend those or explain those, ”Cooper said. “This gives more community level analysis, so we’re not just debating hyperbole and personal opinion. This is what the census data is showing.”
School Spokesperson Tim Robinson told FOX 13 News last week that it was unknown if or when the issue may be included in an upcoming board meeting, but the next possible chance would be on May 18.