Trinity vote challenged

Court hearing next step in district, bus company dispute

April 5, 2013
Trinity school board president Scott Day, left, looks through notes at Thursday’s meeting, where residents responded to the board’s decision to award an $8.86 million contract to First Student Inc. Beside him are solicitor Dennis Makel and board members Sandra Clutter, Shawn Mulac, Jenene Hupp and Henry Clemens. - Karen Mansfield / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Trinity Area School District and GG&C Inc. are headed back to Washington County Court.

The school board’s solicitor Dennis Makel said at Thursday night’s agenda meeting that a hearing regarding litigation is scheduled for April 10 at 9:30 a.m. before President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca.

On Monday, the school board voted 5-3-1 at a reconvened meeting to award an $8.86 million contract to First Union Inc., instead of its current longtime carriers GG&C and Schweinebraten, a move that came under fire at Thursday’s meeting.

Resident Jane Ann Songer questioned the validity of the vote Thursday and school board’s ability to follow policies and rules.

“When all this is said and done, the money you might have saved on busing will be spent on attorney fees,” said Songer, who also believes the bids were valid for 120 days and were not set to expire Monday when the board met.

She also voiced concern about issues dealing with the new company, including students’ safety and reliability.

“The fact that five of you chose an out-of-state company that wasn’t the lowest bidder has many of us questioning what true motivation is behind such a move,” Songer added.

After submitting clarification of its original bid, GG&C’s bid was $8.67 million.

GG&C sued Trinity in December after the school board voted to seek bids for the bus contract, alleging the school board and three of its members ignored conflicts of interest and violated state laws while handling transportation matters.

In January, GG&C withdrew its preliminary injunction request and stayed litigation for 60 days as part of an agreement with Trinity in which directors Henry Clemens, Sandra Clutter and Jenene Hupp, who are bus drivers and former GG&C employees, agreed not to participate in discussions and votes related to transportation issues.

The three did not take part in a prior vote to award the contract to GG&C and Schweinebraten, which ended in a 3-3 deadlock. At the April 1 meeting, Clutter and Hupp cast votes in favor of First Union, while Clemons abstained.

Songer questioned their decision to vote, saying she does not believe Clutter’s and Hupp’s votes will stand if the matter ends up in court.

In a written statement Monday, Clutter explained why she voted and said it was the only difficult vote she has ever cast.

“It not only hurt myself but people I care about,” she wrote. “I had to do what was right for all the students in the district. We could not let the bids expire and take the chance of having to do this all over again. The district needs safe and reliable transportation. This ends my 25-year career as a bus driver. I know I speak for Jenene and myself when I say we will miss our kids. We care about the safety of all Trinity students, not just those we carried. I have made lifelong friendships with many of my kids and parents. They knew my heart was with their children and their safety was my priority. I apologize to anyone this hurts but I had no other alternative. The deadlock had to be broken.”

In action Thursday, the school board approved a four-year contract extension for Bobby Jones, director of athletics/activities.

The contract, which currently pays Jones about $80,000 annually, was approved by a 5-4 vote.

In favor of the contract, which runs through August 9, 2017, were directors Sandra Clutter, Scott Day, Jenene Hupp, Colleen Interval and Shawn Mulac. Opposed were Penny Caleffe, Henry Clemons, Tamara Salvatori and Jennifer Morgan.

At a previous board meetinThe agenda item to extend Jones’s contract was remove from the March 21 meeting and placed on the agenda for the April 1 meeting before ultimately being moved to Thursday’s meeting, a move that was questioned by Songer.

Also Thursday, the board voted 5-4 to furlough French teacher Sara Paterra, effective the 2013-14 school year. The school district eliminated the French program.

The board also approved by 8-1 vote a contract between Trinity Area Support Professionals custodial and maintenance unit and the district.

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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