July 4, 2022

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New bus contractor takes over Mat-Su student transportation this fall

PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) – Starting this fall, Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District students will ride different buses on their way to school.

The district’s school board approved a 10-year contract worth close to $200 million with Durham School Services for pupil transportation on Feb. 3, 2021. The contract begins July 1 of this year and lasts through June 30, 2032. The school board passed the contract by a 7-0 vote.

“Both First Student and Durham submitted proposals. Durham was the successful proposer based on the evaluation criteria set forth in the RFP (Request for Proposals),” district spokesperson Jillian Morrissey said in an email.

Previously, First Student had bused students in the Mat-Su for over two decades, according to Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations Luke Fulp. The company had first transported students as Laidlaw, and more recently as First Student after they purchased Laidlaw.

Durham will be responsible for driving students along 146 routes for 170 days of service per year. The first year of the contract is for over $16.7 million. Fulp said that bus drivers with First Student have the opportunity to drive a bus for Durham.

“Durham has reached out to First Student bus drivers and let them know that they will have hiring preference if they finish their position with First Student in good standing,” Fulp said in an interview. “There’s lots of opportunities and the recruitment efforts have been successful so far.”

Fulp said that First Student bus drivers can reach out to Durham School Services on their Facebook page. The contract with the Mat-Su Borough School District is not the only one that Durham has secured in Alaska, as the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District also signed a contract with Durham School Services in January of 2020.

First Student alerted their staff that as many as 182 people may be laid off in a letter to employees from April 27.

“We provide the number of routes, routing information about how far the buses have to drive,” Fulp said. “And they provide us with a proposal on what what it is that they would provide the service for, typically, a bus contractor is going to come in and as a part of the the contract requirements that we have is that it’s a fleet owned by the contractor, and then they manage it and operate it.”

Additionally, the Mat-Su Borough School District has an option to purchase the bus terminal, office property and improvements from Durham at the end of the 10-year contract for 65% of the fair market value. The contract includes a 2.5% minimum guaranteed increase based on the Consumer Price Index and a 6% increase ceiling — meaning the contract could cost as little as $187,319,474 — or as much as $220,381,634 for the duration of the 10-year agreement.

According to the revised cost proposal from Durham School Services from Dec. 17, 2020, the expected daily cost for the first year of the contract is about $98,300.

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