Two bus contracts renewed by board

January 17, 2001

Two bus contracts renewed by board

By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer

Two school bus contracts were renewed by the Washington County School Board at its Tuesday night meeting, despite the efforts of six board administrators, including the schools superintendent, to put the contracts out for competitive bid.

The board voted 6-0 for the renewals. Board member Mary Wilfong abstained. The board also voted 7-0 to buy two buses as a result of contractors wishing to leave the business.

Contractors called the votes a "victory of sorts."

"I thank the board for the consideration and ability to fend off a lot of pressure," said Terry Hovermale, president of the Washington County Contractor's Association.

Todd Hoffman, a school bus contractor whose contract was renewed at the meeting, said he didn't expect the School Board to vote in his favor.


"When I saw all the blue suits I thought we were done," Hoffman said.

Since November, board administrators have claimed the school system could save about $34,000 a year in per vehicle allotments by not renewing four bus contracts and, instead, buying four of its own buses. A per vehicle allotment is the money the board pays to contractors over 12 years of service.

Contractors have insisted that the board's cost comparison between contracted services and the county-owned buses was inaccurate. According to contractors, the school system would see no savings.

Last week, board administrators said the school system could also save money if it put those contracts out for competitive bid, which the School Board has not done for at least 80 years.

Tuesday morning, Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett shocked the School Board by saying that it has been violating its own policy and state code because it has never bid school bus contracts.

The longtime board practice has been to renew a contract with the same school bus contractor once it expires, he said. The life of a contract is 12 years. School Board members questioned why the non-compliance issue wasn't brought up sooner.

"I'm astonished at this, Board President J. Herbert Hardin said. "It's such a surprise to me that this has gone on for 80 years and suddenly it's been thrust upon us as if it's a revelation."

William McKinley, the board's executive director of support servicies, said the issue wasn't brought up because it hasn't been looked for until now.

Bartlett pushed for the four contracts to be put out for competitive bid, and then continue the process yearly as other contracts expire. He said not only will it save the school system money, but it will also comply with board policy and state code.

The board would have the right to reject any or all bids.

The board's policy and state code are similar, in that they both require school expenditures over $15,000 to be bid.

Bartlett says the board favors certain contractors by automatically renewing their contracts.

"We give preferential treatment to the person who already had the contract," Bartlett said Tuesday morning. "It's the only contract in the system that I know of that operates this way. It's strange that it's in violation of your own policy."

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