BURLINGTON – The School Committee recently awarded a 5-year bus transportation contract to Trombly Motor Coach Service, Inc. at an annual cost of $2.1 million, forcing them to move forward with a placeholder for September Town Meeting.

The deadline for submitting September Town Meeting warrant articles is before the School Committee’s next meeting on Aug. 20. This resulted in the committee having to take a vote in order to put the placeholder in, which they did by a 4-0 vote. Chair Martha Simon was absent from the meeting.

The objective of the placeholder is to reduce the previously allocated 5-year bus contract that was initially passed by Town Meeting last May. With the bidding process restarting since then, and a new bid from Trombly winning over the former bid from A&F Bus Company, the figures in the School Department’s Operating Budget have been changed.

The committee approved a motion to reduce the School Department’s Operating Budget and Accommodated Accounts to reflect the revised transportation contract from Trombly. School Supt. Dr. Eric Conti revealed he has not crafted the language for the placeholder, but confirmed it will be ready for Town Meeting on Sept. 23.

Getting here

The Massachusetts Inspector General’s Office enforced a ruling to the School Committee, resulting in the re-opening of a previously approved bid, which had been awarded to A&F Bus Company for $2.3 million this past May Town Meeting. The Inspector General’s ruling claimed the contract with A&F Bus Company was nullified, due to a marketing issue wherein the bid was not advertised properly with COMMBUYS - the state’s official procurement record system.

A total of 16 bus providers were involved in the bidding process, but only one bid was presented back to the district before May Town Meeting, and that was from A&F Bus Company, who had been the district’s bus provider for the last 25 years.

With the Inspector General’s Office forcing the committee to entertain two bids, even while A&F Bus Company’s bid had been widely known since May, this led to Tombly Motor Coach Service, Inc. swooping in to submit a bid that was lower by $204,000.

John J, McCarthy, owner of Trombly Motor Coach Service, Inc., commented on the process that led to his company submitting a bid for this transportation contract.

“We bid this contract five years ago, but it was tossed for a technicality [an issue with the serial numbers on new buses],” McCarthy told the committee, conceding that he recently had lunch with Gov. Charlie Baker. “We are a big company that believes safety comes first. Most of our policies and procedures have been adopted by the state, such as the installation of GPS and cameras on buses. Transition can be hard, but you can guarantee that myself and my staff will work diligently for the first day of school.”

McCarthy confirmed A&F Bus Company drivers will be offered jobs with his company, likely keeping those drivers on the same routes in hopes of making the bus provider transition “as smooth as possible.” He also owns NRT Bus, another company separate from Trombly. NRT has had a presence in Burlington over the last 10 years, as the company has been providing special needs students with transportation services since 2006 “with no complaints.”

Robert Bent, owner of A&F Bus Company, gave his final pitch to the committee.

“Over the 25 years we have been here, I feel we have gone above and beyond to make sure the buses are safe. We never let ourselves get stretched too thin,” implored Bent. “We do not want to be the biggest company in Massachusetts; we want to be the best company in Massachusetts, and that is what we have strived for these last 25 years in Burlington.”

Attorney Darren R. Klein, of KP Law, P.C., representing the School Committee, responded to a persistent inquiry from Town Meeting members who were in attendance for the special meeting: Why did the committee’s traffic consultant, Rich Labrie, of Public Management Associates of Wakefield, not feel the A&F contract needed to be advertised on COMMBUYS?

Klein admitted Labrie was led to believe the bid did not have to be added to COMMBUYS.

“[Labrie] had an opinion that a contract this size did not have to get put in COMMBUYS. The Inspector General felt otherwise,” explained Klein.

Labrie previously acknowledged numerous other communities have followed the same process of not publishing a bid in COMMBUYS without any issue from the Inspector General’s Office.

After hearing prolonged commentary from parents and proponents of both bus companies, the committee’s remarks were heard and followed by a motion.

School Committee member Thomas F. Murphy, Jr. did an adequate job summing up the logic behind the board’s decision, focusing on Chapter 30B in the Massachusetts Legislature.

“Chapter 30B is fairly straightforward and does not allow much flexibility for our decision,” professed Murphy, noting Chapter 30B is state law that strongarms a committee or board to approve the lowest bidder in a contract situation. “I am very appreciative of [A&F], who has been very professional and cooperative over the years. But, at the end of the day, Chapter 30B calls for us to take the lowest bidder and that low bidder will save us over $1 million over the course of five years.”

Murphy went on to ask for fairmindedness from the public when it comes to judging Trombly’s mode of business.

“Out of fairness, it is in everyone’s best interests to give Trombly a chance. Change is hard, but we can make it work together,” urged Murphy.

Adding onto the sentiment that the state law holds the most weight in the bidding process, School Committee Chair Martha Simon expressed the committee’s “hands are tied” by Chapter 30B.

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