If approved by the School Board, Seattle Public Schools may again hire First Student as its primary bus contractor.

After a long bidding process, the district’s staff is recommending awarding a new three-year contract to the company, which recently admitted to committing hundreds of safety violations and entered into a settlement with the state following an investigation of its charter division, which transports kids to field trips and extracurricular events.

“SPS is aware of the fines recently levied on First Student by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission for safety violations related to the company’s charter bus service,” district spokesperson Tim Robinson wrote in an email. “First Student has entered into a settlement agreement … which reduced the majority of these fines and has resulted in the company’s safety rating being affirmed.”

Shortly after these violations came to light, the district abruptly shut down the bidding process, though both First Student and the district say there is no link.

“The previous request for proposals was cancelled to allow the district to improve its selection process,” Robinson said.

When the district reopened the process, a new requirement appeared: a question asking if applicants had been fined or under investigation for noncompliance with state and federal laws and regulations.

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“The proposers’ responses were assessed as a component of their qualifications,” he said.

First Student competed with California-based company Zum for the contract award. A few months ago, Seattle Public Schools officials expressed relief that they had more than one bidder, since First Student had been the sole company to apply for the current contract, worth $40 million a year.

The carrier has struggled for years with recruiting enough drivers to staff routes, and has been providing only a fraction of the routes it used to service prior to the pandemic. A new proposal to change school start times aims to alleviate that issue.

“I do want to stress that the procurement process is ongoing and will not be finalized until a contact is negotiated and that contract is authorized by the board,” said Robinson.

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