July 18, 2019

Superintendent's Response to Valley News Article about Hartford's Contracting of Transportation Services

DATE: 09-06-2014

Following my review of the Valley News article about alleged irregularities in the process ofcontracting Hartford’s School Transportation I feel compelled to respond.

First, the district began this process after many years of struggling to keep up with the demand for buses and related equipment, the maintenance of the existing equipment, the shortage of drivers and skyrocketing costs.   We are a public school district, and our primary mission is the education of our students.  Nevertheless, we found ourselves running a small but complex transportation company, placing numerous burdens on our small administrative and management team, none of whom were transportation professionals. 

Our original intent in seeking proposals related to bus services was to secure a leasing agreement for the needed equipment and maintenance.  Under this plan we would have continued responsibility for employing drivers and managing student routes.  In October, 2012 we contacted RSD Transportation, Student Transportation of America (STA), First Student and Butlers Transportation in an effort to get proposals for rental and maintenance of the equipment only.  District staff spent an enormous amount of time attempting to secure viable proposals.  However, we received one proposal for the provision of equipment, at a cost that was higher than what the district’s current operation was costing.

Accordingly, in the summer of 2013 the district decided to contact vendors with the idea of pursuing a full service contract; i.e., the provision of both equipment and drivers. Again, we contacted the four established and qualified providers of transportation services for schools in our region: Student Transportation of America, RSD Leasing, First Student and Butler Bus. We asked each of these companies to sit down with us, look at our current equipment and review our current routes based on 175 school days with sports trips and field trips included. Data sheets were provided to each company representative that included route mileage, detailed fleet information and driver cost. Several phone and email conversations, site visits and meetings occurred between district staff and the providers. The documents which detail the frequency and scope of these meetings, conversations and site visits are all posted on the Hartford School District website under the district site tab.

Communications with representatives of the four bus companies were frequent, ongoing and open throughout the winter of 2013. Although one vendor suggested that the process would be smoother if we contracted with a bus transportation specialist to work with us on the process, at no time prior to the award of the contract did any potential bidder advise that additional information or details were needed to enable them to adequately respond with a proposal.

The questions cited about bid law need to be addressed. The bid law to me is very clear; statute states that the board “shall publicly advertise or invite three or more bids” for transportation services. We did not advertise, but we “personally” invited proposals from the four companies we knew had the regional presence, experience, capital, maintenance facilities and knowledge to provide for Hartford School District’s transportation needs. We invited bids from the four vendors mentioned earlier. Throughout the Fall and Winter of 2013 each vendor had numerous telephone, email and face to face contact with district staff to prepare their proposals for Hartford’s transportation needs. In the end, RSD Leasing, who provides bus service to Lebanon, NH Schools, decided not to bid.  First Student, STA and Butler all provided bid proposals for Hartford to consider. Unfortunately, First Student’s bid was non-conforming, meaning it did not include the basic information we needed to qualify it as a bid and to fairly evaluate it in light of the bids from other providers. Numerous phone, voice and face to face conversations continued with all of the companies including First Student.  First student never revealed that it did not understand what was expected for them to move forward in the bidding process.  In fact, as of March 26, 2014 (see 3/26/2014 email posted on website), it was clear that the manager of First Student, Mr. Gaudet, understood that his company’s proposal was no longer being considered. In fact, at that point in time he recommended Student Transportation of America to us as a company we should consider due to its safety record.

The Valley News article also stated that the district did not comply with state law applicable to public bidding. The district invited bids from four (4) competent bus companies, exceeding the statutory requirement. The District did, in fact, receive bids from three (3) of the companies solicited.  Through no fault of the District, only two (2) of those bids were conforming. Upon review, in response to a complaint about the district’s process, Greg Glennon, general counsel for the Agency of Education stated, “As I understand it, Hartford S.D. properly invited bids from all of the regional service providers which may have possessed the ability to offer a conforming bid, in the first instance.”  Furthermore Mr. Glennon concluded, “Here, Hartford S.D. did everything it could have reasonably been expected to do, to solicit at least three (3) conforming bids through a fair process with the intention of keeping costs down for the district.”

So, where does this leave us?  Students of the Hartford School District will now be transported to school by a bus company managed by transportation professionals.  Bus drivers formerly employed by the district were offered positions with the new company at wages equal to or in excess of the wages they received as employees of Hartford S.D.  School administrators have additional time to concentrate on improving education quality for our students instead of attempting to manage a bus service.  Finally, the taxpayers of the Hartford School District should realize approximately $960,000 in savings over the life of the transportation contract.