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The Board of Education is requesting that the Town Council compensate it for additional money associated with the district’s new transportation contract, after the Council failed to grant a bid waiver for the contract last year.
In a 6-1 vote, the Board formally passed a motion that will ask the Town to cover as much as $200,000 in costs when it finalizes its contract with DATTCO, the transportation company used by the district for its vehicle needs. The request is an extension of a disagreement between the Town Council and Board that stems back to last season’s budget talks, when the Board requested a bid waiver from the Council that would have allowed it to negotiate directly with DATTCO on a new contract and bypass the bid process. Had the bid waiver been granted, school administrators asserted, a more favorable contract could have been worked out with DATTCO.
The Council decided to reject the waiver in the hopes of garnering an even lower offer through the bid process. Ultimately, DATTCO won the bid, but at an offer that school officials insist was considerably higher than what had been discussed, if the bid waiver had been granted.
“The Council, in (its) infinite wisdom, decided not to heed the advice from the Board,” said Peter Massey, Board member and chairman of the Board’s Finance Committee. “The cost of that (decision) is going to be quite dramatic.”
According to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Greg Florio, the difference between the contract offered by DATTCO through the bid process and the one that would have been offered had the bid waiver been granted, could be between $150,000 and $200,000. Florio stressed that he would not have exact figures for about a month, when things were more “settled,” but offered the numbers as a rough estimate of how much more the Board would have to pay in the coming fiscal year.
“I want to wait for a while so that we see exactly what we have,” said Florio, “so that we are comparing apples to apples.”
As an example of the added costs associated with the new contract, Florio stated that, under the previous agreement with DATTCO, the school district paid $230 a day for use of one of the company’s full-size buses. Had the bid waiver been granted, Florio suggested that Dattco’s price would have risen to $240 per day. However, since Dattco was forced to go through the bidding process, its low bid ended up being $258 per day, an increase of $18.
Board member Cathy Hellreich suggested that no one on the Board was “surprised” by the fact that the winning bid from DATTCO was significantly higher than one that could have been negotiated with a waiver in place, and she stated that members were within their right to ask for money back from the Town Council.
“We are not going to get any money if we don’t ask for it,” said Hellreich.
However, Board member Alan Sobol, who voted against the motion, worried that such a vote could create an “adversarial” relationship between the Board of Education and the Town Council early on in the year.
“My concern is that a motion like this would appear to pit the Board against the Council,” said Sobol. “Considering that the likelihood of a motion like this being granted (by the Council) is slim at best, I have a concern about moving forward with this.”
Board member Bob Behrer, however, disagreed that the motion could create tension between the two Town government bodies, stating that, in fact, it was the proper thing to do in order to inform the Council early on what the Board hoped to receive in the coming year.
“I think this is a standard way of doing business,” said Behrer. “I would hope that we could unanimously vote to send this across (to the Council).”
Yet, Sobol suggested that the “history” behind the bid waiver disagreement could not be ignored and that such a motion would be seen through that prism.
“I don’t think we can pretend this history doesn’t exist,” said Sobol, referring to some heated rhetoric exchanged by members of both government bodies over the waiver issue. “Under different circumstances, I might be in favor of this motion. I would certainly like this money. But, I believe we are getting off on the wrong foot with (the Council) with something like this.”
While Board member Gerry Brittingham stated that he understood Sobol’s concern in regards to the motion, he insisted it was the right thing to do. Brittingham suggested that the Council’s vote could potentially cost the Board money “we don’t have.”
“I think they need to accept responsibility for their vote,” said Brittingham.