Parents concerned over $9.7 million MCPS emergency school bus purchase

A group of lawyers who keep close tabs on Montgomery County Public Schools is waiving a red flag on a diesel bus purchase order made earlier this month that they say will cost the school system nearly $10 million without the school board having to approve it first.

This comes after the MCPS Board of Education made headlines last year for approving $1.3 million in spending to replace MCPS’ diesel bus fleet with 326 electric school buses over the next four years. It was reported as the largest electric school bus purchase of any school system.

MCPS Superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight issued a memorandum asking the school board to approve an emergency purchase order made on August 5th for 64 diesel school buses. The cost is around $9.7 million dollars.

The memo says: "These buses typically are ordered annually in the fall in preparation for receipt in the spring and summer of the upcoming school year. Last fall, only the electric school bus order was placed." 

To the Parent’s Coalition, this sounds as if a mistake was made.

MCPS Spokesperson Chris Cram clarified that the new buses are special education buses purchased because of supply chain issues and the electric bus provider not being able to immediately fulfill that part of the order.

"At the same time, teachers are out buying pencils and papers and manipulatives for their classrooms with their personal funds. Somebody in MCPS found $9.7 million dollars to make up for a mistake? A cover-up? A failure in another contract?" said Janis Sartucci, a Parents Coalition member. "It’s not at all clear what is going on here. If it is a failure in the electric bus contract, that’s not an emergency. That’s something that needs to come before the full board on their regular agenda with public notice, so the public can participate and comment."

The MCPS spokesperson says more details will come out during Tuesday’s school board meeting but could not immediately answer questions about when MCPS learned that part of the electric bus order would not be fulfilled or whether any bids were taken before the purchase order was made.

He also claims they’re not double purchasing, however, those details had not been provided at the time of the report.

Parents Coalition member Janis Sartucci says special education buses aren’t supposed to come in until 2023.

Another official with close knowledge of the situation noted it also takes time to ready the school buses for the road, which includes installing cameras and two-way radio equipment.

MCPS received 25 full size electric school buses last school year. 

They’re supposed to receive an additional 61 this year. FOX 5 has learned that the supply shortage issue impacting the special education bus order is not effecting the full size bus order. However, the 61 buses slated to arrive this year are not expected to arrive until the Fall — closer to October or November.

This is a developing story. Check back with FOX 5 for updates.