July 8 2019

Special School Committee Meeting on Re-Bid of Transportation Contract on Tuesday

By: Rich Hosford

There will be a special School Committee meeting on Tuesday to discuss the district’s Transportation Contract after the state’s Inspector General sent a letter saying the initial bid process was invalid. 


In May, Burlington Town Meeting voted to approve a $2.2 million 5-year contract with A&F Bus Company, the entity that has been busing Burlington students for over a decade. The bid was 37 percent higher than the previous contract, which raised some eyebrows, as did the fact that though 16 different companies were part of the process only A&F submitted a formal bid. The price increase was attributed to a myriad of issues including increased benefits for drivers and higher insurance rates. 


Despite the increase in price the contract was approved by Town Meeting and everything seemed set. However, during its last meeting the School Committee said it had received a letter from the State Inspector General’s office saying that because it did not publicize the bid request in a certain publication it was invalid and the district would have to re-submit for bids. The district did so and received another bid from A&F and another from Trombly Motor Coach Service Inc. that undercut A&F’s bid by approximately $204,000. 


Consultant Rich Labrie of Public Management Associates, who was hired by the committee to help with the contract process, said normally under state law a town must go with the lower bid unless there is a compelling reason not to do so. He said in his report that his recommendation is for the district to go with Trombly. 


A couple of School Committee members asked about reports of safety issues with Trombly. Vice Chair Kristin Russo also said she had heard that in some towns serviced by Trombly that students are forced to wait on cold buses in the morning for up to 10 minutes before being let out in the morning and in the cafeteria after school for up to half an hour before being picked up. 


“We worked very hard to make sure every student is home within a half an hour of the end of the school day and not sitting in a cafeteria,” she said. 


Labrie said he checked the company with other school districts and received mostly positive reviews. There was an incident in 2014 when a driver left a 3-and-a-half autistic boy in a bus in Methuen after overlooking the child. However, Labrie said, after checking references and online reviews he determined that most people who deal with the company have a favorable view of it. 


 “In my opinion the positives outweighed the negatives,” he said. 


There was also the issue of whether Trombly simply undercut A&F in an unfair manner after A&F’s initial bid was made public when it was approved. Two members, Tom Murphy and Christine Monaco, said the district’s experience with A&F has been positive and they don’t want to see it lose the bid because of an unfair process. 


“The idea that we have a process where two people bid and one has a pretty good idea what the other person is going to be bidding, that just stinks,” Murphy said. “I’m still wrestling with that one.”


“[They] undercut them,” Monaco said. “I don’t know a whole lot about the law but I know a lot about human relations and there is something wrong with that picture. After A&F’s number was known to the entire world someone came in and bid a lower number. I don’t feel right about this.” 


The special School Committee meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 9. The first item on the agenda is a potential executive session to discuss the transportation contract followed by a public discussion and possible vote.


Editor's Note: A previous edition of this story said "Attorney General" instead of "Inspector General" in one instance and it has been corrected.


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