HARWICH – When the Monomoy Regional School District put out a request for bids for a busing contract in January and again in November, they anticipated sifting through a host of proposals. Instead, they received none.
With a need to get plans firmly in place for the next school year, the Monomoy school committee approved Superintendent Scott Carpenter's recommendation that the district begin working with the Cape Cod Collaborative on transportation.
Carpenter said the district was originally seeking bids for a three-year contract with two additional one-year options that would take the district from July 2019 through July 2022 and possibly beyond. Instead, no bids were submitted during request periods in January and November, putting the district in a bit of a challenging spot regarding a third request for bids.
“By the time we go through the posting and the bid process, if we are in a bind and have no vendor then, we've then lost two months time to then ramp up Plan B,” Carpenter said.
Plan B involves working with the Cape Cod Collaborative, which currently provides transportation for the Nantucket, Truro, Mashpee, Bourne and Nauset districts. Somewhat ironically, rumors had been circulating that the Monomoy district was already leaning toward utilizing the Collaborative, which prompted at least one bus company not to submit a bid.
Peggy Garahan is the owner and operator of Cape Destinations, a Cape-based transportation company that holds the current and expiring contract with the Monomoy district. Garahan explained that Monomoy's request for bids came while Cape Destinations was still under contract.
“We had the one-year extension on our current contract and asked the school district to release us from the contract so we could bid,” she said, adding that the district denied the request. According to Carpenter, the company didn't need to be released from the contract in order to bid.
“Their contract expires at the end of this school year, so there's no remaining contract that could dissuade them from bidding,” Carpenter said.
“The rumors have been flying since last June that the contract was going to the Collaborative,” said Garahan.
Garahan said that the work that goes into submitting a bid is extensive and time consuming, and having school districts opt to use the Collaborative after receiving bids can be frustrating.
“We've been down this road many times,” Garahan said. “You do everything you can to submit a bid...but you can't compete with your own tax dollars.”
Garahan hopes that although Cape Destinations won't serve as the Monomoy district's contracted bus company, the district will still utilize them for other busing needs, such as field trips and sporting events.
“It's a dent for us, but it's an exciting change,” said Garahan. “We'd still like to be part of things here. There's other things we can do for the district other than home-to-school busing and we hope they'll continue to use our services. There are a lot of options out there.”
According to Paul Hilton, executive director of the Cape Cod Collaborative, transportation works a little differently through the collaborative than it does through a private contracted bus company.
“The Collaborative is owned by each of the school districts on the Cape,” said Hilton. “Any school district that uses the Collaborative is operating transportation through the Collaborative.”
Where bus companies traditionally own a fleet of buses for use by a school system, districts using the Collaborative must work with them to purchase buses.
“We coordinate the purchase and they get the benefit of ownership, but technically the Collaborative owns the vehicles,” explained Hilton. “After seven years, costs go way down [since the] vehicles are paid off in seven years. We don't make a profit. Our goal is to provide a service and to ensure that districts control what they're paying for. We bring people together to talk about better ways to do things. Sometimes this is the better way, sometimes it's not.” Hilton noted that while some districts have opted to remain with the Collaborative, others have returned to using contracted vendors.
“We're not a vendor,” he said. “We're not anxious to do or not do anything. If Monomoy desires us to work with them to do transportation, we develop a plan for implementation and a cost structure of how transportation will be provided.”
The next step is a sit-down with Monomoy administrators to determine the best course of action.
“It really is going to depend on what the district needs,” said Hilton. “We only operate where people want us to operate.”
The concern for members of the school committee is cost.
“They have thoughts on what it's going to cost,” said Carpenter. “We're starting from a place where our transportation costs have been pretty reasonable.”
Carpenter said the district was anticipating a 10 percent increase under Cape Destinations, and said that costs with the Collaborative might initially be somewhat higher due to the purchase of buses, but that over time the costs would decrease, especially after the vehicles were paid off.
As for the impact on families with children riding buses to school, Carpenter said there should be no noticeable change. It could, he said, be a positive in the end.
“For our students, families, and taxpayers, there will be no difference in utilizing the Collaborative as our transportation provider,” he said. “If anything, the district will have more control over the customer service end of transportation.”