July 3, 2022

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SPS walks back transportation contract decision, splits award between rival companies

Seattle Public Schools (SPS) intends to award its transportation service contract to two companies for the 2022-2023 school year, First Student and Zum Services. Both companies will receive at least 40% of the overall commission, according to an internal memo between the current contractor, First Student, and SPS.

Following a Request for Proposal (RFP) over the course of the current school year, the district had originally awarded the rights to First Student, the primary transportation contractor to the district for over thirty years. That decision was appealed by Zum, citing a series of alleged errors made by the district in their evaluation of the competitive bid process.

Rival to First Student exposes Seattle Schools’ fumbled bus-bidding war

Broadly, Zum alleges two mistakes made by the district, both resulting from the scoring metric SPS used to evaluate and, ultimately, award the contract: their true best and final offer was not reflected by SPS; the district failed to differentiate among types of buses stipulated in the contract, resulting in inaccurate price evaluations of the bids.

First Student disputes those claims made by Zum, citing a “misunderstanding of procurement guidelines and the discretion afforded SPS.” SPS could not be reached for comment on either allegation.

“We were disappointed that the district did not award the entire contract to First Student. We believe there are significant economies of scale in providing services for student transportation. We stand ready to serve the district in any way and value the continued partnership,” a spokesperson on behalf of First Student wrote to MyNorthwest.

“We are pleased to see the district move toward awarding a substantial portion of the contract to Zum, introducing a safe, trustworthy, student-centered partner to thousands more Seattle families … We are excited to expand that service and begin transforming student transportation for every Seattle school community we are tasked to serve,” a spokesperson for Zum wrote to MyNorthwest.

The details and scope of the split award have yet to be negotiated among SPS, First Student, and Zum Services.

“A shorter contract term is planned to see how First Student and ZUM can accomplish the task of providing transportation for the first year. This will guide the district’s decision on transportation services for upcoming years,” the memo reads.

Seattle Public Schools declined to comment on the contract award decision.