The Rockville Centre Board of Education voted on Dec. 6 to award a transportation contract to the Baumann Bus Company — whose employees went on strike in November, forcing many students to seek alternative transportation for two weeks.
The contract was expected to go to Guardian, the bus company that filled in for Baumann during the strike, but its bid for the contract was “incomplete,” according to school officials.
After the board voted to dissolve Baumann’s old contract on Nov. 14 because of the company’s failure to end the strike quickly, Guardian’s assistance in transporting the district’s roughly 1,750 students earned the praise of administration officials.
Despite the kudos, however, the rapport between Guardian and the district did not materialize into a contractual relationship.
The district’s request for proposals included a section where bidders were asked to list prices for various types of bus routes, including home-to-school, field trips and athletic transportation.
In some cases, the district requested no routes of a certain type, but still expected bidders to fill in prices. Those spaces were left blank on Guardian’s bid.
In numerous places on the RFP, the district underlined and wrote in bold that bidders had to complete the forms “in their entirety … even if the vehicle type is not being used by the district for calculation purposes,” and warned that not doing so would force the district to deem the bid incomplete.
A representative of Guardian, who identified herself as Irene, said at the Dec. 6 meeting that she was shocked by the board’s decision, and asked whether it could give Guardian another chance to complete the bid.
“The deadline was [4 p.m.] on [Nov. 28],” said Schools Superintendent Dr. William Johnson. “We’re not allowed, by law, to go to you after the deadline and have a discussion.
“I’ve got nothing but admiration for the services that Guardian has provided,” he continued. “But we have to live with the guidance that we get from our attorneys on this.”
As Irene stepped back from the lectern, Johnson added, “Don’t walk away from that microphone without understanding how much we appreciate the work that Guardian has done.”
Johnson told the Herald last month that the board’s decision to terminate Baumann’s contract was a wise one, and criticized bus company employees for hurting children by going on strike.
“Baumann Bus Company was unable to provide full service due to the labor strike,” Richard Hamburger, an attorney representing Baumann, told the Herald. “Now that the strike is over, we’re looking forward to providing full service to the Rockville Centre School District again, and we hope that our work in the district will continue for years to come.”
Corey Muirhead, vice president of Guardian Bus Company, claimed that the district could have waived the oversight, and that he was disappointed with the outcome. “Guardian Bus understands and accepts [the district’s] decision to move forward with Baumann,” he said, “in the hopes that they will re-bid this contract for next school year.”
Robert Bartels, assistant superintendent for business and personnel, said that the decision not to waive the technicality was made based on advice from the district’s legal counsel.
At the meeting, Johnson said that requiring bidders to list apparently unnecessary prices was a way to lock them in if the district wanted to later change or expand their routes.
The prices that Guardian listed were virtually identical to Baumann’s — between 1 and 3 cents cheaper for day-to-day routes and as much as $3.19 for field trip routes — and would save the district only about $100 through the end of the year, according to Johnson. The prices on Baumann’s bid were unchanged from its original contract that was terminated. The new contract expires at the end of the school year, at which point the district can choose to renew it or begin a new bidding process.