MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Public School board voted to award bus contracts for the 2021-2022 school year at its regular meeting Thursday night.
The agenda lists six bus companies for a total of close to $56 million: Durham School Services, First Student, Johnson School Bus Service, Lamers Bus Lines, Illinois Central School Bus, and Specialized Care Transport.
MPS Transportation Services Senior Director David Solik-Fifarek said all of the contractors in this award are already in contracts with the district since September 2020. He said this doesn't account for all buses, as wheelchair and athletics could come under separate contracts. He said there are fewer buses awarded under this proposal request.
"The way that we have approached this RFP is in anticipation of either continued COVID-19 precautions, or the expectation that some of that can be lifted by the time we get to September," Solik-Fifarek said.
Under the MPS reopening plan, school buses can operate at half capacity, or 36 students at most per bus.
In a normal year outside the pandemic, MPS says about 45,000 students rely on the bus to get to school.
Last week, TMJ4 News learned about 80 buses and about 160 bus routes were canceled on the first day of in-person classes.
In a statement, Student Transportation of America told TMJ4 News it needed ramp-up time to rehire and retrain drivers, and that MPS did not formally respond to an amended contract until a week before kids returned to class.
The Wisconsin School Bus Association said it warned MPS in October of a driver shortage if the district did not pay them.
Last Friday, MPS responded with a statement that it paid the bus contractors 60 percent of the remainder of agreements through the 2020-2021 school year. The Wisconsin School Bus Association says MPS misspoke on the dates—that it instead paid 60 percent of the agreements for the remainder of the 2019-2020.
In separate statements last week, MPS told TMJ4 News it had resolved many of the transportation issues, and that all students with canceled buses were reassigned.
Earlier this week, TMJ4 learned a parent company for two MPS bus providers sent a letter to the state saying it had to lay off 189 employees in Milwaukee.
One family told TMJ4 News on Thursday they were told they do not have a bus for their students for the foreseeable future.
Joel and Andrea Wesenberg said they brought their third grader to the bus stop last week, and the bus never showed. Andrea Wesenberg said she called the bus companies and the school to try to get it sorted out.
"We went there 10 minutes early, like you're supposed to, we waited 15 minutes after, like you're supposed to," Wesenberg said.
Then this week Wesenberg said she brought her fifth grader to the bus stop, and the bus did not show up. Now she and her husband are scrambling to figure out getting their kids to school, when she works third shift and he works first shift.
"This should have been planned. You should have had a contingency, to the contingency, to the contingency of what this was going to look like," Wesenberg said.