July 10 2019

School Committee Votes to Give Transportation Contract to New Company

By: Rich Hosford

Burlington students will be transported to school by a new bus company this fall. 


The School Committee voted on Tuesday during a special meeting to approve a bid from Trombly Motor Coach for a 5-year contract with the town. This marks the end of a 25 year relationship the Burlington School District has had with A&F Transportation. 


According to a timeline of events read by School Committee Chair Martha Simon, in March a school transportation bid was posted to multiple platforms seeking proposals for a 5-year contract. Notices were also sent to 35 different bus companies. 


At the time the only company to submit a bid was A&F and in May Town Meeting voted to approve the contract and the funds for it even though it represented a 37 percent increase over the last 5-year contract. 


However, on June 3 the school district received a notice from the Massachusetts Inspector General that the bidding process did not comply with state requirements set forth in Mass General Laws Chapter 30B because the bid request was not posted on COMMBUYS, the state’s official procurement record system. Because of this the contract was not deemed valid by the states. 


A&F said at the time that other contracts were made in other districts without them using COMMBUYS to advertise the bid requests. Also, as was reported from a School Committee meeting last month, it appears someone in town brought issues with the bidding process to the Inspector General’s attention. 


However, Simon said in the statement, the committee was advised not to allow the fact that other school districts did not complying with the regulation to affect their actions. 


“We have been advised by our Counsel that the mere fact that other districts may not have complied with certain statutory requirements does not in any way relieve Burlington School District from having to comply with any and all statutory requirements, especially in light of the Inspector General’s determination and clarification on this issue.” 


So the district went into a second bidding process and this time received two sealed bids, one from A&F and a second from Trombly Motor Coach. The Trombly bid was $1,022,580 less than the new A&F bid for the 5-year contract. This works out to $204,516 per year. 


Richard Labrie, a consultant with Public Management Associates that was hired by the School Committee to assist in the contract process, said he recommended they award the contract to Trombly. He said that under Mass General Law Chapter 30B a municipality or school department is required to choose the lowest “responsive and responsible” party. 


Labrie also said he checked six references for Trombly Motor Coach and that three were “generally good” and two were “excellent.” There was one negative reference from three years ago against the bus company NRT that is owned by the same person as Trombly. He also said the bus company has mostly positive online reviews. 


Simon said that between getting the bids and this week’s meeting they spoke with School Committee Counsel and Mr. Labrie to come up with a set of requirements for the winning bidder. 


These included that all current bus drivers be offered employment to continue their routes. 


Additionally, the successful bidder must obtain annually a 100 percent performance bond to ensure full performance of the requirements set for in the bid documents. These requirements include the quality of the buses, maintenance of equipment, safety equipment and bus monitors and all staff must have training, licenses, undergo CORI checks and be drug tested 


Further the documents require that students will not be picked up earlier than 40 minutes before school starts and reach the school no earlier than 10 minutes before classes begin. 


During the meeting a number of A&F bus drivers and parents spoke, urging the board to stick with A&F and not switch to another company. 


“My daughter is happy to see her bus driver every morning,” one mother said. “It’s quality over quantity - I’d rather pay more tax money to have a bus company I’m comfortable busing my children.”


However, in the end, the committee said they were held by the restrictions of Mass General Law and voted to give the contract to Trombly, though somewhat reluctantly. 


“I want to thank everyone involved with A&F, the service has been wonderful,” School Committee Member Christine Monaco said. “I wish the law gave us the ability to use our emotional judgement more but, as has been pointed out, it doesn’t. we have a fiduciary responsibility to take the low bid and I’m hopeful it will work out both with the drivers and the new company.”


School Committee Member Thomas Murphy encouraged everyone to keep an open mind.  


“I would urge people out of fairness to give the new company a chance,” he said. “They seem to be an experienced company, they’ve been in business a long time, and they are going to be transporting our children. We have to go into this with the right attitude and I think you should give them a chance.”


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