Busing Bid the Sequel- The City doesn’t understand the School Transportation System

A new contract gets issued after the existing 5 year contract expires and in that time span Minimum Wages have gone up, Paid Sick time is mandatory and the ” Affordable Care Act” are all now in place yet the City and School Administration is somehow surprised the contract came in higher?

The Asst. Superintendent of Finance and his office are responsible for issuing all RFP’s and their office’s and the City’s Purchasing Department supposedly reviewed, submitted and awarded the RFP earlier this year. The Transportation Director does not write the bid /RFP

Now when the Transportation Director is leaving and 8 weeks before the new School year begins after not being able to find a replacement for him, there is suddenly a “concern” over wording and the Law Department suggest it’s time to toss out the existing contract and put it out for rebid.

The bubble finger pointing had the Mayor and Supt. responsible for the sudden interest in reviewing the language but yesterday multiple people reached out and stated it was the Managers Office looking to reduce cost and hoping the new bids would come in cheaper since the Manager still can’t find the “promised” $250,000 to cover the existing School Dept deficit in the 2017/2018 budget that resulted in the reposting.

The city / school department actually have multiple busing contracts. One for in city “regular” education including extracurricular activities. One in city “Special Education ” and one out of city /district “Special” Education.

It is the ” Regular Education ” contract which goes out to bid and gets awarded to the lowest bidder that has been reopened and out for re- bid. If you looked around the State you would find that having only one bidder is not uncommon.

1. All vehicles used in the performance of this contract shall be parked at the successful bidder’s garage or parking lot when not in use for the transportation of Lowell Public Schools students. No vehicle will be parked on any public way within the City of Lowell overnight, on weekends, or between morning and afternoon trips.

The above is the “revised” language in the busing contract instead of must be garaged in Lowell.

What is even more disappointing and somewhat telling to me is that when the City reissued the RFP someone in either legal or purchasing with absolutely no basic understanding of the Lowell School System posted the RFQ with this information. (BOLD mine)

The purpose of these specifications is to permit qualified bidders to formulate costs and furnish bids to provide safe, reliable and economical student transportation for the Lowell Public Schools.

5. During the 2016-2017 school year, the Lowell Public Schools employed sixty- two (62) buses to transport approximately 7,000 students to and from regular school sessions. The total number of buses required in performance of this contract is not expected to exceed sixty two (62) buses annually. The actual number of buses used is subject to changes based upon the Lowell School Committee’s walk/ride policies, the number of eligible students, and the availability of funds. The Lowell Public Schools reserves the right to add or delete from these numbers of vehicles as the Lowell Public Schools deems is in the best interest of the Lowell Public Schools. Additions or deletions to the contract will be at the same prices as in the base bid for regular transportation of the affected school year.
a. The City will consider bids that provide Thirty-one (31) buses annually to provide service to Lowell for one of two (2) zones (Zone A and Zone B).
i. The City will assign the zones to the bidders that meet all requirements stated within and then by the lowest cost.
ii. Bidders can bid for one or both zones

The problem with that idea of splitting the contract by zones, supposedly to try to encourage smaller bus companies to bid and reduce the cost is Lowell offers Citywide Schools so a student living in Zone A in Pawtucketville can and does attend the Pyne Arts School in Zone B. If you bid on just one zone how does that student get across the zones? Oh wait they can’t without violating the contract!

Once someone with common sense and an understanding of the City School’s zone asked that question the City Purchasing Dept. quickly issued the following “addendum” eliminating that provision.

The question remains who thought it necessary with 8 weeks to go to ask the Law Department to look at the language and why wasn’t it reviewed or questioned by the Asst Superintendent of Finance or the Purchasing Department when it went out for bid or when it was awarded?

How many transportation companies would have 72 buses and certified drivers available 8 weeks before the start of school and why would any company who had their contract voided for no reason of any impropriety by them come in at the same price?

Being in the private sector I’d rebid at a little higher costs with confidence that pretty much no other company can deliver with this tight time frame. Whatever and whoever caused the review may end up costing the city money. The initial error in wording seems accidental but the attempt to discredit or tarnish the reputation of a longtime outstanding school employee on their way out appears deliberate and instead may be more harmful to the city instead.

Have we heard any concern from the current school committee over this issue? Will one of them put in a motion questioning the Asst Superintendent’s handling of this? Even if they do will they get a response?

1 thought on “Busing Bid the Sequel- The City doesn’t understand the School Transportation System

  1. I am not suggesting that there is any particular problems with our organizational arrangement, but based on my past experience in this area, I think having the Purchasing Department in the Law Office means that you are not having an “independent” legal review. When I was doing this sort of thing, back before the earth started to cool, Procurement was its own office and had its own [Contract] Review Committee and then it went down the street for a legal review.
    Just saying.
    Regards — Cliff

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