The Andover School Committee will vote Thursday on whether to renew a special education busing contract with a company that has been over budget in two of the past three school years.

NRT Bus, a unit of Beacon Mobility, beat out North Andover-based Obas Enterprises for the new three-year contract with a bid that it says will cost the district $5.6 million over the next three years. Obas, which also provides special education transportation to APS on routes where NRT does not have enough drivers, bid $6.4 million.

“While the two special education transportation services are exempt from MA GL Chapter 30b regulations [that require government entities to accept the lowest bid], as sound business practice, the district utilizes a similar purchasing methodology,” APS spokesperson Nicole Kieser said.

But NRT’s recent track record raises concerns its bid may have additional costs for the district. Citing driver shortages, NRT has billed the district over the budgeted amount in each of the past three years, except for 2020-21, when students spent part of the year attending school remotely during the coronavirus pandemic. That amounts to $5.2 million in charges, or 20.9 percent higher than the $4.3 million the district had budgeted over the three-year span:

Actual Amount Charged By NRT$539,777$1,957,987$2,683,531
Percent over/under budget-46%+84%+18%
Source: Andover Public Schools

“Coming out of the pandemic, NRT was unable to fully provide services under the current contract. As a result, the district has been partnering with two providers since the 2021-22 school year to provide our families with services,” Kieser said.

Obas has been helping on about half of the district’s special education routes because of NRT’s driver shortage without going over budget.

Town purchasing and contract data reviewed by Andover News did not make clear what prompted the additional charges. Officials for NRT and Obas did not respond to requests for comment on Monday and Tuesday.

The Obas bid would have saved the district 24 percent when compared to $2.7 million special education transportation line item in the 2024-25 APS budget that is set for approval at Town Meeting on Monday. But NRT said it could offer a 38 percent savings, winning the bid:

NRT$1,671,860 $1,926,320 $2,031,140 $5,629,320
Obas$2,056,096 $2,141,984 $2,246,036 $6,444,116
Source: Andover Public Schools

According to the agenda for Thursday’s school committee meeting, the school committee will vote yes or on an administration recommendation to accept NRT’s bid. The three-year contract that will be considered Thursday includes two, one-year options to extend.

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