GFPS approves new bus contract

The Great Falls Public Schools board voted unanimously to approve a new contract with Big Sky Bus Lines during their July 18 meeting.

The existing contract to provide student bus transportation is set to expire at the end of the 2022-2023 school year, but a new five year contract has been negotiated that replaces the final year of the existing contract and runs for four more school years.

Big Sky Bus Lines has been school bus contractor for GFPS since 1982, according to the district.

The new contract includes an annual per route base increase of 3 percent in the first year, followed by an annual 3 percent increase in the following four years of the contract.

The contract also includes language for funds that are directly tied to increasing driver’s wages, according to GFPS.

“The bus company has been facing a shortage of drivers that impacts the service to the district,” according to the district staff report.

The district currently has 67 bus routes and the estimated cost of the combined high school and elementary district funds for the flat bus rate of $257.82 per bus equates to about $90,571 in the first year of the contract.

In the second year of the contract, with the same number of bus routes, the increase would be about $82,852.

The increases directed to drivers and support staff, including bus aides, is an estimated $138,605 in the first year and another $23,557 increase per year after for the remainder of the contract, according to the district.

Brian Patrick, GFPS director of business operations, said that the company hires their own aides, handles discipline on the buses, accident protocols, drug testing and meeting requirements for federal transportation.

There are two GFPS staffers who build the bus routes, he said.

Patrick said that state law allows for the five-year transportation contracts as long as the increase isn’t more than 12 percent per year.

He said that the contracts with the bus company have a flat rate per route that allow travel per bus for up to 4.5 hours per day, versus a per mile fee.

The contract also includes a fuel clause that sets a rate and increases in fuel costs over that rate are split 50-50 between the contractor and GFPS, he said.

Patrick said that this contract’s annual 3 percent annual increase is the lowest he’s seen during his career with the district. Typically, it’s 4 to 5 percent annual increases, he said.

There was no public comment or board discussion before the unanimous vote to approve the new contract.