Bus contract policy questioned

January 18, 2001

Bus contract policy questioned

By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer

The Washington County Board of Education's purchasing manager thinks the board should seek legal advice on whether it is violating its own policy and the state's annotated code by not putting school bus contracts out for bid.

"Are they in violation of our policy? That's a matter of interpretation. In my opinion, yes, it appears that we are," said Purchasing Manager Robert Stambaugh. "We should bring in legal counsel for advice."

The School Board voted 6-0 Tuesday to renew two school bus contracts after Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett and other administrators said the board is violating its policy and the annotated code by not bidding the contracts.

Four contracts were up for renewal, but two contractors decided to leave the business. The board voted 7-0 to buy two replacement buses.


Board member Mary Wilfong abstained from the contract renewal vote. Asked why she abstained Thursday, Wilfong said, "I'm just not going to answer."

Board administrators said the school system might save money by putting the contracts out for bid.

Some School Board members said they voted for the renewals despite the concerns of administrators because they had to act quickly to ensure buses would be available at the start of the 2001-2002 school year.

Chris Carter, the board's director of transportation, said it can take about nine months to receive a new bus after it has been ordered.

Board President J. Herbert Hardin and board member Doris Nipps cited the timeliness of the order as a key factor in their votes.

Board member Paul Bailey said renewing the contracts was the best option available.

"I tried to make an informed decision based on everything I heard," he said.

All three said they're already looking into whether the practice of awarding the contracts without a bid is a violation, and they hope to have a better handle on the issue when it comes up next year.

The board's lawyer, Judy Bressler, could not be reached for comment.

James Doolan, transportation director of Carroll County public schools, said he was not aware of a law requiring public schools to put bus contracts out for bid. He said he thinks bus contracts don't fit into the same category as other contracts for services such as school construction, which must be put out to bid.

Construction contractors, for example, don't provide permanent, daily services to the school system, so a competitive bid would help ensure that preferential treatment isn't given to a certain construction contractor, he said.

"You wouldn't bid out teachers, for instance, and they provide a daily service," Doolan said.

Doolan said the Carroll County school system bid bus contracts for three years but stopped in September because the county wasn't seeing any savings. In some cases, he said bids came in over the budgeted amount and the school system had to pay more than anticipated.

Howard County public schools, which has a 100 percent contracted fleet, has used the competitive bidding process for five years. Glenn Johnson, the transportation director there, said he has never heard of a law that says a school system must bid bus contracts, but his county does because it saves money.

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