Trinity Area School Board awarded an $8.86 million bus contract to First Student Inc. Monday.
Two board members who were barred in Washington County Court from weighing in on transportation issues cast their votes for First Student at the afternoon meeting, giving the Cincinnati-based company the contract by a 5-3-1 margin.
First Student beat out three other bus companies for the five-year contract, including GG&C and Schweinebraten, the district’s current transportation providers.
GG&C sued Trinity in December after the school district voted to seek bids for the bus contract and alleged the school board and three of its members ignored conflicts of interest and violated state laws while handling transportation matters. Sandra Clutter and Jenene Hupp, former GG&C employees, now work for Schweinebraten, and Henry Clemens had worked for both companies. As part of an agreement reached between Trinity and GG&C in court on January 30, GG&C offered to withdraw its preliminary injunction request and stay litigation for 60 days. Clemens, Clutter and Hupp agreed not to participate in discussions and votes related to transportation issues.
According to board president Scott Day, that agreement expired March 30.
“We had an agreement in place for 60 days, and that 60 days expired. Our contention is that the 60 days is over and we completed everything in there we agreed to, including attending a WHAT conference last week. That’s our interpretation, and we believe we’re correct,” said Day.
In addition, the transportation bids were set to expire Monday.
Clemens abstained from Monday’s vote, but Clutter and Hupp voted for First Student, along with Day, Colleen Interval and Shawn Mulac.
Opposed were Penny Caleffe, Jennifer Morgan and Tamera Salvatori.
At a Feb. 21 meeting, a motion to award a five-year contract to GG&C and Schweinebraten ended in a 3-3 tie, and board president Scott Day said the board had reached an impasse. The sides were ordered by President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca to hold a status conference on March 27.
Furman said he believes the school district likely will end up back in court to defend the vote.
“There’s going to be more. It’s going to come back to the court, and we’ll see what happens in there,” Furman said.
He said the two directors did not violate state ethics laws because they voted for First Student, not the bus company they work for, which could negatively impact their income.
“The two board members today who voted for First Student essentially voted against their employer. That’s to their financial detriment,” said Furman.
Dale Lyons, vice president of Schweinebraten, said Monday, “We believe the actions of the board were improper both as a matter of law and inappropriate for the best interests of the students and the taxpayers of the district.”
GG&C’s attorney, Richard Kelly, could not be reached Monday, but said two weeks ago that the company should be awarded the contract because it was the lowest bidder. After submitting clarifications of its original bid following the deadline, GG&C’s bid was $8.67 million, Kelly said.
Morgan, who voted against First Student, was frustrated with the outcome.
“I voted no because I wanted to keep the bus contract local and to go with the lowest responsible bidder. That’s been my stance since day one, to negotiate with our current contractors and not go from someone outside the state,” said Morgan. The school district is not required to award the contract to the lowest bidder because it is a service contract, and Day believes First Student will save the district money by consolidating and eliminating bus runs.
“I understand the emotion because (GG&C and Schweinebraten) are local, but I’m thoroughly convinced that long-term, this is the best contract for the district and the taxpayers,” Day said.
The district’s contracts with GG&C and Schweinebraten (GG&C handles 22 routes while Schweinebraten has 11) expire June 30.