Our Bidding Policy Must Be Thrown Out

There is something seriously misguided with how we handle contracts in our district.  I only just discovered how misguided.

Our current bidding policy, changed just last year, does not require a contract, once awarded, to ever be put out to bid again. Feeling uncomfortable about our policy, I took a look at the New Hampshire School Boards Association’s recommended Bidding Policy.  My jaw nearly impaled my chest.

The School Boards Association suggested policy says this:

  • ALL contracts of $5,000 or more must be put out to competitive bid
  • All bids are to be addressed to the board (and presumably opened by the board)
  • the board approves or rejects bids
  • the district enters into the contract, which means the board signs the contract, not the superintendent.

Timberlane’s Bidding Requirements (DJE) policy say this:

  • First-time contracts of $10,000 or more must be put out to bid
  • Bids are opened by the superintendent
  • Bids are accepted or rejected by the superintendent
  • Specialized educational and related services are exempt from the bidding policy
  • Existing services that continue to meet the needs of the district do not need to go out to bid.

WHAT TIMBERLANE’S POLICY DOESN’T SAY:

  • The school board shall open bids in public
  • The school board shall accept or reject bids
  • A vote of the school board shall be the sole authorizing authority on all district contracts

Our bidding policy has left everything in the hands of the superintendent and taken your elected representatives right out of the loop. Our policy also authorizes contracts for life with a single one-year contract, and don’t think that doesn’t happen. Our athletic trainer contract was not put out to bid for 28 years. (Thank you Dr. Metzler for selecting a new provider two years ago.) The FLES consultant’s contract could be the next. (See April 6th post, Mrs. Metzler’s Contract Renewed for Five Years.”.)

Almost all bids are opened without any knowledge of the board.  Many contracts are signed without any knowledge of the board as a whole and contract renewals seem to go completely unnoticed by the board for the most part. The board does not see facilities contracts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Terms of the recent FLES consulting contract renewal for $250,000 was not revealed to the board. In my one year on the board, I remember voting on only one contract — a one-year Public Relations consultant’s contract for $18,000.

Even major contracts, like food service, are without board overview. Here’s a quote for the June 5, 2014 minutes:   ‘Motion: Mrs. Green motioned to delay approving the Food Service contract until the contract is reviewed by the board. The motion failed for lack of a second.’

TRSD’s Purchasing Policy (DJ) says in part : “The Business Administrator will be solely responsible for the final approval of all non-educational purchases.  The Superintendent or his/her designee will approve educational purchases beyond budget limitations.”

This purchasing policy may be why facilities improvement and maintenance contracts, food service contracts, and others are not signed by the school board – leaving the board to approve educational contracts such as consultants and athletic trainers. If I think I’ve finally got it figured out, why, then, did the board approve the Public Relations contract? That isn’t educational.  Or maybe the board only ever approves first time contracts and not subsequent contracts?  Or maybe the board approves consultants while the SAU approves contractors?

Whatever the logic is that I’ve yet to discover, to my mind it is fundamentally irresponsible for the school board to not be reviewing and approving substantial contracts that bind the taxpayers to financial obligations. If nothing else, it is a check and balance on the administration. The board doesn’t even have knowledge of the bidding process or the number of bids received before a contract is awarded. Would you allow your selectmen to run your town this way?

Here is the  New Hampshire School Boards Association Recommended Language for “Bidding Requirements,” DJE. Please compare it to Timberlane’s immediately below it.

All contracts for, and purchases of supplies, materials, equipment, and contractual services in the amount of $5,000 or more, shall be based, when feasible, on at least three competitive bids. All purchases less than $5,000 in amount may be made in the open market but shall, when possible, be based on at least three competitive quotations or prices. All purchases made in the open market shall be completed after careful pricing.

When bidding procedures are used, bids shall be advertised appropriately. Suppliers shall be invited to have their names placed on mailing lists to receive invitations to bid. When specifications are prepared, they will be mailed to all merchants and firms who have indicated an interest in bidding.

All bids must be submitted in sealed envelopes, addressed to the Board, and plainly marked with the name of the bid and the time of the bid opening. Bids shall be opened at the time specified and all bidders and other persons shall be invited to be present.

The Board reserves the right to reject any or all bids and to accept that bid which appears to be in the best interest of the District. The Board reserves the right to waive any formalities in, or reject, any or all bids or any part of any bid. Any bid may be withdrawn prior to the scheduled time for the opening of bids. Any bid received after the time and date specified shall not be considered. The Board also reserves the right to negotiate with a bidder when all bids exceed the budgeted appropriation.

The bidder to whom the award is made shall be required to enter into a written contract with the District.

Here is Timberlane’s Bidding Policy:

BIDDING REQUIREMENTS
The Superintendent is required to get written competitive bids on purchases of supplies, materials, equipment, and contractual services in the amount of $10,000 or more. As a general rule, purchases of $1,000 or more per item will require at least three competitive documented quotes for the open market. All purchases made in the open market shall be consummated after careful evaluation.
When bidding procedures are used, bids shall be advertised appropriately. Suppliers shall be invited to have their names placed on mailing lists to receive invitations to bid. When specifications are prepared, they will be mailed to all merchants and firms who have indicated an interest in bidding.
All bids must be submitted in sealed envelopes, addressed to the Superintendent, and plainly marked with the name of the bid and the time of the bid opening. Bids shall be opened at the time specified and all bidders and other persons shall be invited to be present.
The Superintendent reserves the right to reject any or all bids and to accept that bid which appears to be in the best interest of the district. The Superintendent also reserves the right to waive any formalities in, or reject, any or all bids or any part of any bid. Any bid may be withdrawn prior to the scheduled time for the opening of bids. Any bid received after the time and date specified, shall not be considered. The Superintendent also reserves the right to negotiate with a bidder when all bids exceed the budgeted appropriation.
The bidder to whom the award is made shall be required to enter into a written contract with the district with appropriate bonding. Contractors shall be required to provide a certificate of insurance.
Specialized educational and related services are exempt from this policy when the interests of children so dictate (i.e. textbook purchases, psychological services, etc.).
Existing services that continue to meet the needs of the district shall be subject to an annual review and may not need to go out to bid.

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Filed under Expenditures, Sandown Issues

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