Bal­ti­more com­pany wins school bus con­tract

Kent County News - - FRONT PAGE - By DANIEL DIVILIO ddivilio@thekent­coun­tynews.com

ROCK HALL — Kent County stu­dents may find them­selves greet­ing new bus driv­ers this fall — or still say­ing hello to the friendly face be­hind the wheel they have known for years.

On Fri­day, the Kent County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion awarded the school bus con­tract to Re­li­able Trans­porta­tion of Bal­ti­more. The move came af­ter board mem­bers — mi­nus Jeff Reed, who was ab­sent — tossed out a bid protest lodged by the con­sor­tium of lo­cal con­trac­tors cur­rently pro­vid­ing stu­dent trans­porta­tion.

Re­li­able, cur­rently serv­ing pub­lic schools in Bal­ti­more City and Bal­ti­more County, was the low bid­der. Re­li­able stated in its bid that the com­pany wants to hire lo­cal driv­ers and es­tab­lish a bus de­pot in or near Kent County.

“I sup­port the de­ci­sion that was made. It was a dif

fi­cult one to make. But, at the end of the day, we had to do what was fis­cally re­spon­si­ble and yet keep­ing in mind what’s best for our stu- dents,” said Su­per­in­ten­dent Karen Couch of the board’s de­ci­sion.

Board mem­bers were joined at Fri­day’s spe­cial meet­ing, held at 11 a.m. in the district’s cen­tral of­fice in Rock Hall, by their at­tor­ney Ed­mund J. O’Meally. Also present were at­tor­neys Da

vid Shee­han, rep­re­sent­ing the Kent County Bus Con­trac­tors LLC, and Ti­mothy M. Dixon and Scott A. Liv

in­gston for Re­li­able. Mem­bers of the Kent County con- tractors group were in the au­di­ence, as well as district staff and in­ter­ested par­ents.

Fac­ing a bud­get short­fall go­ing into the next fis­cal year, the school board put the stu­dent trans­porta­tion con­tract out to bid in hopes of sav­ing money. Re­li­able and the Kent County con­trac­tors, who have pro­vided bus ser­vice for the district since 1997, were the only two bid­ders.

Re­li­able bid $1.49 mil­lion for the first year, with a 2 per­cent in­crease over the next three years end­ing at about $1.58 mil­lion. The Kent County con­trac­tors bid about $1.8 mil­lion a year. The district spent $1.59 mil­lion in the pre­vi­ous fis­cal year on school buses, not count­ing ath­let­ics, field trips, sum­mer school and other ad­di­tional stu­dent trans­porta­tion needs.

“I think the board got it right. I think they did their due dili­gence and, quite frankly, I think it’s the right de­ci­sion. We were the low

est re­spon­sive bid­der. And we’re look­ing for a great part­ner­ship with Kent County Pub­lic Schools, the com­mu­nity and lo­cal em­ploy­ees,” said Dixon, who is Re­li­able’s chief op­er­at­ing and le­gal of­fi­cer, af­ter Fri­day’s vote.

The Kent County con­trac­tors filed a protest four days af­ter the bids were opened Feb. 6. They stated that Re­li­able was nei­ther a re­spon­sive, nor a re­spon­si­ble bid­der. Shee­han was given the op­por­tu­nity to make his case be­fore the board Fri­day.

Much of Shee­han’s ar­gu­ment fo­cused on the lack of par­tic­u­lars in Re­li­able’s bid. He said the com­pany did not in­clude a list of buses that would be used in Kent County. He said it failed to name any driv­ers who would take on the routes.

“Have they filed a re­spon­sive bid when they haven’t told you a sin­gle spe­cific, not one?” Shee­han asked. “Is that what you want to risk?”

Shee­han said the board needed to make an “in­de­pen­dent de­ci­sion” on whether the bid protest had merit. He said if the Kent County con­trac­tors did not win, the school board will be putting a lot of lo­cal peo­ple out of work.

“The ques­tion is them (Re­li­able), not us. You know us. We’ve been in this com­mu­nity for­ever,” Shee­han said.

Dixon re­it­er­ated Re­li­able’s de­sire to hire lo­cal driv­ers, say­ing the com­pany pays be­tween $18.50 and a lit­tle over $20 an hour with ben- efits. He ques­tioned why the com­pany would pur­chase ad­di­tional buses or hire new driv­ers be­fore know­ing it won the con­tract.

“Re­li­able sub­mit­ted ex­pe­ri­ence let­ters. Re­li­able sub­mit­ted fi­nan­cials. Re­li­able sub­mit­ted more than the RFP (re­quest for pro­pos­als) re­quired,” Dixon said.

Shee­han said a pre­vi­ous crim­i­nal con­vic­tion for wel­fare fraud against Re­li­able’s owner should deem the com­pany non-re­spon­sive.

Dixon said mem­bers of the Kent County con­trac­tors group have past le­gal trou­bles, bank­ruptcy fil­ings and tax is­sues, but that does not mean the con­sor­tium is a non-re­spon­sive bid­der.

Much of the ar­gu­ments fo­cused on the district’s re­quire­ment of a per­for­mance bond, which is usu­ally is­sued by a surety or in­surance com­pany af­ter eval­u­a­tion of an op­er­a­tion’s abil­ity to meet con­trac­tual obli­ga­tions.

Re­li­able sub­mit­ted a con­sent of surety let­ter from Hanover In­surance, stat­ing a per­for­mance bond would be is­sued should Re­li­able be awarded the con­tract. The Kent County con­trac­tors re­port­edly had dif­fi­culty ob­tain­ing such a let­ter for the um­brella group and promised, in­stead, to sub­mit in­di­vid­ual per­for­mance guar­an­tees within 10 days of be­ing awarded the con­tract.

“Mr. Shee­han talks about risk, what he doesn’t men­tion is the LLC gave no surety,” Dixon said of the con­trac­tors group.

Shee­han said the school board had sev­eral op­tions. He said the board mem­bers could ac­cept the protest and toss out Re­li­able’s bid, but that would leave them with one bid­der at a price they can­not af­ford. He said Re­li­able also might take them to court. He said they also could risk court ac­tion by the Kent County con­trac­tors if they turn down the bid protest and select Re­li­able.

Shee­han’s third al­ter­na­tive was to re­ject all bids. He said the Kent County con­trac­tors would agree to the terms of their cur­rent con­tract for another five or six years with a 2 per­cent an­nual in­crease.

“That’s an op­tion for you. I rec­om­mend you fol­low that course of ac­tion be­cause it pre­serves jobs in this county. It pre­serves what you have,” Shee­han told the board. Dixon said Shee­han sug

gested the school board vi­o­late the law by re­ject­ing both bids and di­rectly ne­go­ti­at­ing with the Kent County con­trac­tors.

“You’ve had two bid­ders. One won. One lost,” Dixon said.

Fol­low­ing the ar­gu­ments, the board mem­bers and Couch en­tered into ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion to con­sult with O’Meally. The closed-door dis­cus­sion lasted more than an hour.

When they re­turned, board mem­bers cast three unan­i­mous votes: to re­ject the Kent County con­trac­tors’ bid protest, to award the stu­dent trans­porta­tion con­tract to re­li­able and is­sue a new RFP for ad­di­tional trans­por- tation needs in­clud­ing ath­let­ics, field trips and sum­mer school. Those bus trips cost the district $82,000 last year.

That last vote was due to Re­li­able not hav­ing bid on the ad­di­tional trans­porta­tion and the Kent County con­trac­tors of­fer­ing to take them only if they also re­ceived the main con­tract, which they did not.

For board mem­bers Bryan Wil­liams and Joe Goetz, the de­ci­sion came down to cost. Wil­liams said the dif­fer­ence be­tween Re­li­able’s bid and the Kent County con­trac­tors’ over four years came out to a lit­tle more than $1.06 mil­lion.

“I cer­tainly ap­pre­ci­ate all that the LLC has done for us,” said Goetz, who has chil­dren in school. “But at the end of the day we’re charged to look at ev­ery­thing in the school sys­tem, from top to bot­tom.”

In a state­ment emailed af­ter Fri­day’s meet­ing, the Kent County con­trac­tors said they dis­agree with the board’s de­ci­sion, but have no in­ten­tion of pur­su­ing lit­i­ga­tion. They en­sured the com­mu­nity that they will con­tinue to ful­fill their con­tract un­til June 30, when Re­li­able’s con­tract be­gins.

“We wish Re­li­able Trans­porta­tion well, and hope they will con­tinue to pro­vide safe and re­li­able trans­porta­tion to our most ‘pre­cious cargo’ as the Kent County Bus Con­trac­tors, LLC and their driv­ers have done for many many years. Fi­nally, the Kent County Bus Con­trac­tors, LLC want to thank the par

ents/ grand­par­ents and the cit­i­zens of Kent County for their sup­port dur­ing this bid­ding process,” the group said in a state­ment.

PHOTO BY DANIEL DIVILIO

At­tor­ney David Shee­han, left, rep­re­sents the Kent County Bus Con­trac­tors LLC Fri­day at a spe­cial meet­ing of the Kent County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion. Also pic­tured are Ti­mothy M. Dixon and Scott A. Liv­ing­stone, at­tor­neys for Re­li­able Trans­porta­tion.

PHOTO BY DANIEL DIVILIO

Ti­mothy M. Dixon, chief op­er­at­ing and le­gal of­fi­cer for Re­li­able Trans­porta­tion of Bal­ti­more, dis­cusses with the Kent County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion his com­pany’s bid for the stu­dent trans­porta­tion con­tract at a spe­cial meet­ing Fri­day in Rock Hall.

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