No new proposals for bus support

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 9, 2010



RESERVE – Instead of seeking out new proposals for school bus maintenance service, the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board voted to extend a new offer to its current contractors at a reduced rate.

The board opted to go against the recommendations of the finance committee, which determined that with a new request for proposals the school system may have a shot of getting a better deal. The current contracts, which expire Dec. 31, are broken down by monthly and incident payments that amount to roughly $285,000 a year.

Finance Director Felix Boughton told the board that the school system recommends seeking out new proposals for maintenance every three years in order to get the best possible price.

Boughton said the district examined the operations in St. James, where repairs are outsourced to contractors, and St. Charles, which conducts in-house maintenance except for major repairs. He said St. John pays about the same per bus as St. James and not nearly as much as St. Charles, which handles many more buses.

Although the recommendation had the backing of School Superintendant Courtney Millet, many board members questioned whether seeking new proposals was the right option considering the financial state of the school system.

Board member Russell Jack opposed the recommendation and said the school system should stick with the existing contract holders, which are A.O. Williams on the east bank and Haston Lewis Sr. on the west bank.

“I just don’t think now is the right time to make this move,” Jack said. “Considering our finances and the fact that these people have already been working with us, we shouldn’t change.”

Jack and fellow board member Albert “Ali” Burl III proposed that the board submit a new proposal to the existing contractors with a 10 percent decrease for the year, a move taken by other school districts in budget crises.

Board member Russ Wise said the district should consider seeking new proposals because of the possibility of getting a better deal than the existing contracts.

“No one owns these contracts,” Wise said. “Performance in the past should be considered, but it should not be the only stipulation used to renew this contract. This money does not belong to us. It belongs to the voters of St. John Parish.”

Burl stood firm with his suggestion to keep the current contractors for another year. He and board member Patrick Sanders said it gives the district another year to look into the contract to see what next year brings.

“So what you’re saying is that you do not want to open this up to competition?” Wise said to Burl. “You want to hand these contracts to these people without seeing if we can get a better deal.”

Burl said that he did not think the board could get a better deal with an RFP.

“You don’t know unless you try,” Wise added.

Burl’s motion to keep the current contractors at a 10 percent reduction passed by a vote of 10-1, with Wise casting the only dissenting vote.

Burl said the district should give the two contractors a week to decide whether they accept the reduced rate. If not, the issue would return to the agenda at the next scheduled meeting.