Trinity bus contract flap headed back to court

March 15, 2013
Buses line up near dismissal time Friday at Trinity High School. - Christie Campbell / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Trinity Area School District plans to ask a judge to permit three school board members to vote to award a bus contract, after a vote by the remaining six directors ended in a deadlock.

As part of an agreement the school district reached with GG&C Bus Co., which filed a lawsuit against Trinity in December alleging the school board and three of its members ignored conflicts of interest and violated state laws during its handling of transportation matters, the three board members are not permitted to weigh in on transportation issues.

The directors, Sandra Clutter, Jenene Hupp and William Clemens, all former GG&C employees, now work for other transportation companies.

The school district will appear before President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca on Tuesday for a clarification meeting to review the Jan. 30 ruling, at which GG&C offered to withdraw its preliminary injunction request and stay litigation for 60 days.

At a Feb. 21 meeting, a motion to award a five-year contract to GG&C and Schweinebraten bus companies ended in a 3-3 tie. The bid must be approved by a five-member majority of nonconflicted members.

“We’re at an impasse,” said school board president Scott Day. “Now, what do we do?”

Also at issue is the sealed bid submitted by GG&C.

The school district received four bids in response to a request for proposals for the bus contract, which were opened on Jan. 31. However, GG&C submitted a bid utilizing a format different from the one provided by the district.

According to the district’s attorney, Chris Furman, the format led to some confusion regarding GG&C’s actual bid amount, so the district asked the bus company to clarify its bid.

The law does not permit a company to change its bid after bids have been opened, but it is allowed to clarify.

GG&C’s attorney, Richard Kelly of Montgomeryville, said the company submitted a clarification bid on Feb. 12, as required by the school district.

The board’s concern is that the original bid was changed.

According to Furman, all four companies that submitted bids were invited to meet with the school board directors on Feb. 28 to answer questions and to clarify their bids, and all four participated.

However, according to Day, GG&C provided two additional clarification documents at the meeting, which caused more confusion.

In all, the district received an original bid and three clarifying documents from GG&C, Day said.

Kelly disputes the notion that GG&C did anything wrong, saying the company submitted only the sealed bid and the Feb. 12 clarification document.

Kelly said that GG&C was the lowest bidder, at $8,677,976 over five years, while First Student’s bid was $8,866,744 for five years.

But board member Colleen Interval said she believes GG&C’s number is not accurate.

What’s confusing to some members of the board is that on the sealed bid opened on Jan. 31, GG&C indicates a cost for primary transportation services for four hours a day and up to 75 miles, with additional costs for mileage exceeding the 75 miles and time over four hours a day. Those overruns, according to director Colleen Interval, could cost the district an additional $1.4 million over the life of GG&C’s proposed contract.

Kelly, however, said GG&C’s bid does not include overrun charges and dismissed Interval’s calculations.

“The bottom line is, the bids were opened on Jan. 31, the clarification was submitted on Feb. 12, GG&C was the lowest bidder, it has provided safe and reliable transportation for the district for more than 50 years, and it should be awarded the contract,” said Kelly.

Interval believes GG&C’s bid should have been thrown out.

“We had four bidders, and all of the other companies, except GG&C, followed the (request for proposals) and submitted the bid properly,” she said.

Day said the board opened the bus contract, which hadn’t been opened for at least 40 years, to try to get the best deal for the district and its residents. The board recently opened contracts for health care, food service and bond refinancing.

Kelly said GG&C – which had asked the court in December to nullify a school board vote to decide whether to extend the district’s existing contract with GG&C or seek outside proposals – should be awarded the contract as the lowest bidder.

“I understand the school district was interested in getting comparison prices. But that process is done and the path should be clear for GG&C.”

GG&C’s current five-year contract, which expires at the end of June, pays out $2.8 million annually.

Karen Mansfield is an award-winning journalist and mom of five who has been a staff writer for the Observer-Reporter since 1988. She enjoys reading, the Pittsburgh Steelers, a good glass of wine and nice people.

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