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Board of Ed Chooses All-Star

The Board of Education awards five-year school bus contract to All-Star, cites deficiency in owner-operators' bid submission.

Ending a generations-old tradition of having townspeople own and operate Newtown's school buses, the Board of Education voted Tuesday to award a five-year contract to Torrington-based All-Star Transportation.

The decision capped a months-long and emotion-ridden process that pitted the last known owner-operator system in Connecticut against several large school bus companies bidding for a transportation contract worth more than $10 million. The contract would take effect starting next year.

"This is the most difficult decision in my 20 years of serving on various boards and commission," education board member Andy Buzzi said. "The decision has placed me in an impossibly difficult situation and will affect me for a long time."

In the end, while the cost differential of $1.5 million between All-Star and the owner-operators was mentioned as a reason, the more pressing issue appeared to be what one board member described as a "fatal deficiency" in the owner-operators' bid submission.

"The owner operators failure to follow the roadmap the board provided in the Request for Bid has resulted in a fatal deficiency in their submitted bid," Buzzi said.

The issue, according to board members, stems from advice given by district lawyer Floyd Dugas, who said that maintaining multiple school bus contracts might be construed as violating anti-trust laws and price fixing. He recommended the town maintain a single contract.

"Attorney Dugas addressed this board at a public meeting and cited the significant exposure this district will incur if we were to continue under separate contracts," Buzzi said.

At the time, Dugas was evaluating a state Board of Labor Relations complaint the owner-operators filed against the school board. Through his analysis, he  determined that the owner-operator system "may place the town in significant liability risk," according to education board Chairman Bill Hart.

"The legal complexities have been highlighted by the complaint the owner operator filed with the state labor board," Hart said.

The complaint alleges that the owner-operators were in fact employees of the district, and as such, have had their collective bargaining rights violated.

While the district argues the owner-operators are independent contractors, the arrangement of maintaining separate contracts with several vendors who set a price among themselves may be construed as "price fixing," .

Buzzi said that the owner-operators could have avoided the "fatal deficiency" by forming a company as in the case of MTM and McCutchan Transportation, which have separate school bus contracts respectively for special education and athletic and other special events. A handful of owner-operators got together to form those business entities.

Hart also said the difference in the safety record on paper of the owner-operators and bus companies bidding on the contract was a factor.

"It's pretty clear that individually they are struggling to stay on top of the technical and legal issues of running a bus these days," Hart said of the owner-operators. "For the last three years, they have...one of the worst records as a group of any bus operation in the state in terms of passing safety inspections. Over the past five years we have had to terminate three of them for gross violations – safety violations. They aren't immune to the problems any organization struggles with."

At the same time, while All-Star, which also operates buses in Brookfield and New Milford, has one of the best mechanical safety records on file with the Department of Motor Vehicles, the company also .

Board member David Nanavaty was one of the few to bring up the cost differences in the bid as an issue.

"If the owner operators bid was just a little bit more, it might be worth staying with the owner-operators," he said. "But the percentage by which All-Star competes with the owner-operators does not make...a taxpayer in Newtown comfortable that we are going to pay more than our neighbors for transportation."

Board member Debbie Leidlein cast the sole dissenting opinion, calling on the board to postpone awarding the contract because too many legal uncertainties exist regarding the labor complaint. She said the legal opinion and ramifications of the complaint were not explored until much later in the process.

"That information was not shared with this board in its entirety until after the bid was given out," she said. "I'm not comfortable making this decision going forward."

But fellow board member Keith Alexander said officials need to be prepared in case the labor board rules in favor of the owner-operators and determines they are in fact employees, in which case the district would need a company such as All-Star to come in and provide the buses and infrastructure. In that scenario, the owner-operators would be district employees and drive the All-Star buses.

"Given the existing conditions of the possibility that the owner operator will become an employee required to report to the town, I feel we have to support that possibility," Alexander said. "So I think we have to choose something and move on here."

Board member Richard Gaines said officials need to make good on their policy of putting high-ticket-price services out to bid.

"The long of the short of it is we are following the bid process," he said. "Instead of sitting by the sideline and waiting for something to happen, I believe we need to move forward and selecting a transportation provider for the next five years."

The vote was 5 to 1 with Leidlein voting against the contract award and board member Lillian Bittman not present and traveling due to a death in the family.

Owner-operator Beth Koschel said she was disappointed in the decision, though not surprised.

"I don't know what the next move is," she said, adding if her time as an owner-operator was to come to a close, she at least had another year to consider her options.

Koschel said the owner-operators did not have enough time this year from when the request for bid was published in the newspaper and the submission deadline to form a company, and even if they had time, it was unclear whether they would.

"I never considered it that way," she said.

This year's bid process was a departure from the past and the requirement for a single business entity also was a break from tradition, Koschel said.

"It's always understood that's what worked here, that's what was wanted," she said of the owner-operator system.

Editor's note: Watch snippets of some of the discussion in this article:

Sam Mihailoff September 10, 2011 at 03:32 AM
oh I am quite certain the polls will be far from empty...my point is it goes farther than the loss of a valid transportation souce and a town tradition...As long as the school system operates in its own cloistered world NOTHING will change...hidden books not to be seen, that's where the money is...legal fees, specialists, consultations all the things Janet was hired to do with her "expertise". The town could operate quite well without this superintendent. She is useless, and is tearing the town apart
Carey Schierloh September 10, 2011 at 12:14 PM
Did you know in 2009, the interim business director awarded the Garbage Hauling contract without BOE approval? Even though BOE policy states all contracts over $30,000 must be approved by the BOE 3-300.1. Also, the contract was NOT awarded to the lowest bidder. Read the Bee article " School District Explains Waste Hauling Contract Award" from July 2, 2009. Why? From the Bee "While in some states municipalities are required by law to award contracts to the lowest bidder, in Connecticut legally the school district has the authority to award a contract to any bidder, including a highest bidder if that bidder was its choice vendor." The district IS NOT LEGALLY REQUIRED TO GO WITH THE LOWEST BIDDER!!
Snickers September 10, 2011 at 12:29 PM
didn't they also replace the schools food service and drivers ed program with higher cost businesses?
Karen Visca September 10, 2011 at 12:32 PM
When MTM was awarded their contract where they the lowest bidder? I did not think they were but everyone wanted them. They won the contract because they are very good with our special needs children.
Carey Schierloh September 10, 2011 at 12:41 PM
Good questions Karen. Long story short, in 2009, MTM was the lowest overall bidder. The BOE tried to split award with MTM doing out of district and All-Star doing in town. Both bidders lowered some of their prices. In the end, even though MTM was lowest, they only narrowly won. David Nanavaty voted against MTM. NOTE: John Dufour (All-Star) stated at one of those BOE meetings, he was assured he would get the contract.
Carey Schierloh September 10, 2011 at 12:49 PM
The drivers ed program..read Bee article "All-Star Already Contracting With School District For Driver’s Ed". From the article "This contention was strenuously criticized by the owner of another driving school, who told The Bee Wednesday that he not only offered the district better pricing than the plan All-Star's provides through the district, but crafted a program to allow student to fulfill the basic legal requirements to test for a driver's license priced $200 below All-Star's district base plan. Gary Knepler, owner of a Monroe-based driving school that bears his name, said he offered to teach the same program All-Star is offering through Newtown Continuing Ed for $499, which includes a 30-hour classroom component and eight hours of hands-on, behind-the-wheel instruction. The application for Newtown's All-Star program is $525, plus a $25 required text book.
Karen Visca September 10, 2011 at 12:54 PM
They are not being consistent. Saying that the BOE has to go with the lowest bidder. When does this contract end with the drivers ed program?
Carey Schierloh September 10, 2011 at 01:04 PM
Food Service, Bee article "Newtown Schools Acquire New Food Service", June 10, 2004. Interesting, Charwell's made lots of promises- "Chartwells guarantees a first-year surplus of $131,326 and a second-year surplus of $68,043." I don't believe those profits ever materialized. I only remember Chartwell's saying they were losing money and asking for price increases.
Carey Schierloh September 10, 2011 at 01:09 PM
I don't know when the contract ends. You would have to inquire at central office.
onceuponanewtown September 10, 2011 at 01:34 PM
Will electing new members for the BOE change anything? I think there are too many players on the inside...a complete overhaul is needed and I don't see how that can be accomplished. Our students/families are at risk in more ways than one with the current administration.
Newtownpatchreader September 10, 2011 at 02:02 PM
Does anyone know if its possible to elect a new BOE and revisit the O/O issue? I don't know the timing but I thought I remembered that the current O/O contract runs through next year and the election is early November. Just curious.
Sam Mihailoff September 10, 2011 at 02:05 PM
ATTN: KEVIN FITZGERALD on facebook to others you state "you're going "Sam Mihailoff" on Accountability." Well sir, I take that as a compliment. It is indeed unfortunate that you remain fearful and/or incapable of directly answering several simple, yet direct questions. Avoidance and spin leaves the questions unanswered. This inaction and facebook comment is a window to your political and moral soul. You should be ashamed of yourself. Perhaps if you too "went Sam Mihailoff on Accountability" the LC would be less dysfunctional.
Karen Visca September 10, 2011 at 02:10 PM
What is so great about Allstar? I have not heard anything good about them
Snickers September 10, 2011 at 02:44 PM
Having the town finance director assume the duties of the District Director of Business would certainly bring to light where the money is being spent and how contracts are awarded. A new BOE could eliminate the the Director of Business.
Caring About Newtown September 10, 2011 at 02:47 PM
Again, we need to replace the ones in there this November. Yes, I willing to take on whatever I can to make a difference in my town that I care about. I live here, pay taxes here and need to see change all across the board with every municipality!
Carey Schierloh September 10, 2011 at 03:35 PM
People are asking what can be done to reverse the decision on the bus contract. Go to the BOE meeting, demand they reverse the decision, if they don't demand the resignation of the Superintendent and the BOE members who voted for All-Star. Several years ago, the residents of a CT town refused to pass the budget until the BOE resigned.
Paul Mangiafico September 10, 2011 at 04:28 PM
"...demand they reverse the decision, if they don't demand the resignation of the Superintendent and the BOE members who voted for All-Star. Several years ago, the residents of a CT town refused to pass the budget until the BOE resigned." It seems that every once in a while an issue begins to take on a life of its own. This seems to be one. I hope that the BoE and the educational administration are reading these postings very carefully. Budget referendum defeats over this issue have monumental implications.
J. Griffin September 10, 2011 at 05:06 PM
I wish there would be such a upheaval when they cut programs and educators..
NewtownResident September 10, 2011 at 10:57 PM
The current O/O contract ends at the end of this school year. Once the new contract with All-Star is signed, the town cannot go back to the O/O system. Many of these people are more then likely already looking into future jobs and such, and they're not going to be sticking around. Not to mention, after the abuse the O/O's have put up with, I'm uncertain if they would even want to come back to the town.
NewtownResident September 10, 2011 at 11:00 PM
You can still fight, but it doesn't matter. The choice has already been made. The O/O's are out, and changing the BOE won't bring them back.
Karen Visca September 12, 2011 at 04:13 PM
Did you see the ad in The Waterbury Republican-It read. School Bus Drivers All-Star Transportation Hiring NOW paid training starting immediately to get your school bu license. NO experience necessary. 20 to 30 hours per week on average. Clean driving recod required. Paid holidays, perfect attendance a bonus, dental, life insurance and 401 K available. Please apply in person Seymour 591 N. Main Street 203-888-8816 Prospect Grammmar Avenue 203-758-2989 Oxford 516 Oxford Rd. 203-888-2128 New Milford 7 Dodd Rd. 806-350-2880 Brookfield 25 Old Gray's Bridge Rd. 203-775-1545. THE BOE NEEDS TO READ THIS. We don't want this for our Newtown children. I hears the substitute drivers are not background checked. .
Carey Schierloh September 12, 2011 at 04:56 PM
Karen, they will hire drivers now and train them in towns like Waterbury, then ship them here next year. Anyone with a CDL has to be fingerprinted for an FBI background check. I was fingerprinted for my CDL, however, a year later when I was upgrading my CDL, there was no record of my fingerprints/background check. Had to do again......
Karen Visca September 12, 2011 at 05:31 PM
I think that no experience and you get your bus license will be an issue with everybody.
Sam Mihailoff September 12, 2011 at 05:43 PM
what gets me, Now, this is an issue for all the politicians in November...BUNK they all watched the person drowning in the lake, did nothing and now say "we shouldah" Each and every politician going this route, needs to look themselves in the mirror...At any time they could have risen and screamed NO DAMMIT, whether proper etiquette or not, so don't use this fiasco as a ploy to garner votes now.
Kathy Fetchick September 12, 2011 at 07:37 PM
Sam I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with you. While on the BOE, I supported MTM 3 years ago in their bid against All-Star and, by the way, the town saved money because of a second bid and got the hometown business. A win-win in my opinion. While on the BOE, I strongly advocated for a renegotiation with the O/O's 2 years ago. I did not agree with the BOE approach. I argued for a more reasonable approach. It ended with the BOE walking away from saving almost $400,000. More recently, I appealed to the Legislative Council to ask questions about the process because I felt that the process was predetermined. In my opinion, there were other options that could have been explored and the BOE refused. All of this is in the public record. This is a town issue which not only affects the education system but the town as a whole. The O/O's provide so much more than basic transportation. The provide many free services to the town. I feel the bid document was purposely written to exclude the O/O's and the public was misled to believe the O/O's had a chance. This is a travesty, also, in my opinion.
Sam Mihailoff September 12, 2011 at 07:59 PM
Kathy, either I wrote it wrong or you are misinterpreting my attempts...WE are in total agreement. I certainly have NO beef with you. You, actually were the one who asked JR about the building directive of 14 months prior... her response was "deer in headlights" glazed look and no reply" What I am alluding to without trying to get into the political party cesspool are the recently posted nice video snippets and on another side a platform that just sounds great. Sounds nice but the actions sure are contrary to the platform and visuals
Kathy Fetchick September 12, 2011 at 10:23 PM
Sam, Thanks for the clarification
Susan McGuinness Getzinger September 18, 2011 at 11:50 AM
Ms. Fetchick, Would it be possible, in your knowledgeable opinion, that my cul de sac and bus stop requests are consistantly being denied due to the BOE and Admin's strong, steadfast and predetermined goal of getting AllStar and larger buses in, thereby denying me due to the inability of school buses coming down narrow roads once AllStar comes on board? It seems to me that my case is strong circumstantial proof of a predetermined goal that goes against safety regulations of the DMV, as well as the CT SDE's sample school bus policy that gives helpful examples of hazardous situations that would cause the bus to COME DOWN our street (and others) to avoid hazards to children (we have - narrow road, no barrier to RR, wholes in road - one at bus stop for 2 months that could swallow a child - according to town records at public works - I have copy). I think the orchestration of a bus contract is what kept my simple request from fruition especially since I alleged discrimination on the part of the Superintendent (which was ignored by the State's appointed hearing officer).
Susan McGuinness Getzinger October 09, 2011 at 11:10 PM
What steps are going to be implemented by the next BOE re: actual transparency in the BOE? Why was it allowed at the Oct BoE meeting, where I allowed the BOE to show my bills, yet Mr. Hart decided to talk about my children's personal health issues without my permission to the Bee. That is not allowed at BoE meetings as per Mr. Hart has stated. They could be sued. He has opened that up. He said (in the Bee article) that there was no condition (re: health issue) & that my request for a 504 would harm my child. The Superintendent said in the same Bee article that there was nothing she could have done to help in regards to our neighborhood petition requesting that the school bus stop for our children as it passed our homes. ALl she had to do was allow the bus to stop as it passed by. $42k - was all that ego so, as Mr. Hart stated in the Bee, they wouldn't "cave"? The bus was passing by. The Superintendent refused to allow it to stop. She gave NO REASON. A favorite hearing officer sided with the same attorneys that like to have her decide in their favot in other districts in CT.
Susan McGuinness Getzinger October 09, 2011 at 11:11 PM
Fiduciary responsibility: A fiduciary duty (from Latin fiduciarius, meaning "(holding) in trust"; from fides, meaning "faith", and fiducia, meaning "trust") is a legal or ethical relationship of confidence or trust regarding the management of money or property between two or more parties, most commonly a fiduciary and a principal. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiduciary

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